Initial nails are the most controversial beauty trend of the season

The days of you going Facebook official with your partner are officially over. Initial nail art is the new way to let everyone know your relationship is the real deal. Yes, you read that right. This involves incorporating your partner’s initials into your manicure.

We have a handful of *ahem* celebrities to thank for the trend, which is currently taking nail salons by storm. Kourtney Kardashian was one of the first troopers to fall for the slack movement, hitting the red carpet at this year’s Met Gala wearing a gothic black mani with the letter ‘T’ (a nod to her husband, Travis Barker ). No stranger to nail polish himself, Travis returned the favor with an embossed “K” on his thumb in a matching style.

A beloved Kim Kardashian followed suit a few weeks later, flaunting a diamond-encrusted ‘P’ on her ring finger for then-boyfriend Pete Davidson, while Jennifer Lopez went a step further and made her debut with a crest-style nail art, combining gold foil ‘J’ and ‘B’ to celebrate actor Ben Affleck’s re-engagement.

Celebrities may have been rushing to the nail salon with these examples for manicure inspiration, but the trend hadn’t really caught on until now. Cuffing season certainly has a hand in it: On Pinterest, for example, searches for “boyfriend initial nails” are up 150% this month. So who are the real people behind the initial nail art trend? More importantly, why is it so controversial?

Initial nails have gained the most traction on TikTok, where the hashtag #initialnails has a whopping 12.7 billion views and counting. There, you’ll see an abundance of amorous content creators trying to get you on the soppy side. “It’s your sign to get your boyfriend’s initials on your fingernails,” a TikToker captioned a video with 3.4 million views of Nicki Minaj rapping: “He could tell I was female. ” Cute or cringe? You decide. Beyond initials, there are explanations of color theory when thinking about nails. These viral videos suggest that “caught” people should wear light blue fingernails to let everyone know they’re not single. Meanwhile, those looking for a new partner should wear red nail polish to signal their availability.

Most TikTokers who contacted R29 said wearing initials on their nails was simply a “cute gesture” or a “temporary and sensible alternative” to a partner’s tattoo, especially considering that countless inks are laser erased each year. . Some admitted to using the lovey-dovey design as a way to “softly kick off” their relationship on social media, while another took a photo of her nails to send to her long-distance boyfriend as a “sweet surprise — a hint that he’s on her mind.

It’s no coincidence that initial nails see a spike in interest as the weather cools. Therapist Sally Baker thinks the trend will continue to grow as more and more people inevitably mate for the winter. “Fall is traditionally the start of ‘handcuff season,’ when people want to declare their happy couple status,” she says. (“Handcuffing” derives from “handcuffing” and essentially describes the desire to handcuff oneself to another person and form a relationship with them.)

It makes sense. After all, it’s nice to share body heat when it’s cold outside (and heating bills are going to skyrocket). But Sally thinks there’s another reason the trend is taking off, and it speaks to our fragility. “The initial nail trend fuels a desire to want to add weight to new relationships,” she explains. “These can be fragile and embryonic.”

The initial nail art trend may seem harmless to most, but therapists agree it could actually be a red flag, an indicator of coercive control.

Despite a handful of dismissive comments — “I may be cringe but at least I won’t paint my boyfriend’s initial on my ring finger cringe” — professionals agree that, in the together, the trend is tasteful. “I’ve been doing the first nails for a while now and see it often around Valentine’s Day, especially in old English letters,” says nail artist and Booksy Ambassador Alice McNails.

Alice adds, “I think this trend is really sweet and wearable, and you can experiment with different fonts, colors, and textures. You can do it in a minimalist way or take it a step further with an initial on your ring finger for wedding nails. Natural nail manicurist Laura Massey believes the trend is so viral right now because of how relatable it is. Anyone in a happy relationship — regardless of age, gender, or sexuality — may be tempted to jump on board. “People love a custom manicure.”

Tasteful or not, the desire to label yourself with your sweetie’s name actually stems from evolving cravings. “Visually claiming someone is nothing new, it’s just evolved over time,” says psychotherapist Dr. Daryl Appleton. “We’ve seen this throughout history in wedding rings, for example, or wearing someone’s letter jacket and getting tattoos to match. Psychologically, your partner’s initials can be a symbol of commitment to help avoid unwanted advances or to show pride in a relationship.

Certainly, as human beings, we like to prove our achievements. Some breakups go very messy on social media, but posting your first nuggets on your story? It’s solid proof that you’re going strong. Does anyone really care? Perhaps, given that we lived through two tumultuous years of intermittent isolation. Wearing your heart on your sleeve (or in this case, your initials on your fingernails) shows that you’re getting back there, or that your relationship has survived through thick and thin.

Considering that the hands are one of the most visible parts of the body, Dr. Appleton’s theory, which suggests that the initial fingernails are some kind of claim, is interesting. Sure enough, the comment sections under countless TikTok videos are full of not-so-subtle exchanges between couples. “You better do this 😑,” wrote one TikToker, tagging their partner under a first nail art video. Is it real love if you don’t wear it on your nails? A few years ago, the first nails might not have been so successful. But the trend was born after the pandemic – an incredibly lonely time for many. These days, public displays of affection are encouraged, even fashionable.

Kravis is pretty much PG when you look at Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly, who arguably spearheaded the movement toward unbridled public intimacy (think: moping on the Billboard Awards red carpet and drinking each other’s blood ). Initial nails are an extension of that craze, according to Chaun Legend, famed nail artist and artist-in-residence for Lottie London. “The PDA has never been so popular,” he says. “Celebs who would normally play the shy card are shouting from the rooftops about their new partners and what better way to say you’re out of the market than to include it in your manicure?” Is it sickeningly sweet? “Yeah, but you can’t deny it’s possessive in the best way.”

Can this really be a good thing? A quick swipe around my Instagram followers suggested that in addition to being “possessive”, some find engraving your partner’s initials on your fingernails “objective” and almost like being “branded”. The trend may seem harmless to most, but Sally agrees it could actually be a ‘red flag’ and says she can imagine friends, family or colleagues questioning the motivation of someone to do it. She adds that as the trend accelerates, it could become an indicator of coercive control, or could be done in response to pressure from a partner to prove that you are their sole property.

Remember that not everyone is a fan of showing their love publicly. The aforementioned celebrity couples have been the subject of thought and debate for months, with the appropriateness of their behavior dividing the general public. And for Brits in particular, stresses confidence and mindset coach Hattie MacAndrews, PDA is a particularly tricky subject. “Brits aren’t known for being spouters and an outward sign of affection like first fingernails can make people feel uneasy,” she explains.

“Wearing your partner’s initials on your nails is a statement,” Hattie continues, adding that your motivation will determine whether you love the trend (in which case nail decals are probably the easiest option) or whether it gives you the ‘ick’. Granted, not everyone on TikTok is taken by the gesture. “Looks like someone drew it with a marker,” one boyfriend said in response to his girlfriend’s personalized initial manicure. “It looks shitty.”

From glass nails to aura nails, trends come and go. But love it or hate it, the initial nail art isn’t going anywhere just yet. Taylor Swift has it right when she sings, “I wanna wear his initial on a chain around my neck / Not ’cause he owns me but ’cause he really knows me.” Apply this concept to initial manicures and you might have some great advice.

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