The Nail Industry Has a Diversity Problem, and It's Not Serving Fat People

Whether you're conscious of it or not, every time you see an advertisement or commercial for a beauty product, and the camera pans to a celebrity's hands, it's almost always a hand model. It's the same story when A-listers are applying nail polish, showing off a new engagement ring collection, or test-driving a car. Whenever hands are needed in the advertising space, hand models are recruited to step in. Now think hard to all the hands you've seen: have any of them been plus-size? Not really.

If a person's hand has never dictated whether or not they can wear nail polish or rings or have healthy, shiny nails — why aren't more adverts reflective of that? Although the fashion industry has come a long way with curvy initiatives, the nail industry is still behind. Case in point: images of nonpetite hands are few and far between. The lack of hand diversity becomes problematic when the sole purpose of a commercial or beauty advertisement is for a brand to convince you the product is essential for your life and will make you feel more beautiful. So why exclude such a large portion of the population? We investigate the why — and what needs to be done about it.

The Problem With Nail Advertisements

At some point in time, the media and its audience decided on what an aesthetically beautiful hand looked like and created barriers to entry for anything outside of that. "A conventional beautiful hand possesses spotless, firm skin, neat and often manicured nail beds, and generally showcases long fingers," actor and hand model Griff Stark-Ennis told POPSUGAR. "More masculine hands will have a bit more meat to them, while feminine hands tend to be more slender."

Samara Walker, founder and CEO of Àuda.B, believes this societal conditioning — that a beautiful and acceptable hand can only be thin — plays into the fatphobia issue in this country. "Fatphobia and restrictive standards of femininity are so entrenched in our society that 'secondary' body parts can get left out of the conversation," she said. "But body positivity means celebrating and showcasing the beauty of all parts of everyone's body, including hands."

The inherent message that the lack of hand diversity sends is this: if you don't have narrow, petite hands, you don't belong. And because audiences have been consistently taught to believe that the only definition of beauty includes a thin white hand, it can really affect the self-image if they don't fit this mold. Photos of hands might seem like a small thing, but it plays into the same systemic trope that idolizes European features.

To be clear, there are definitely a few exceptions. Accounts like All Hands Are Good Hands on Instagram showcase different sizes and colors of hands; others like People of Color Beauty focus on standing in the gap for people of color. Still, these examples are not demonstrated at the rate that accurately describes what America really looks like.

How the Nail (and Beauty) Industry Can Change

The biggest consensus among the manicurists we spoke to: things need to change. "It would be amazing to see practical hands versus ones that look like porcelain," said Chris Cabrera, founder of nail brand Naturally London. "I believe imagery helps enhance a story and tells readers what they can expect and accept."

When scrolling through social media, taking in jewelry and engagement advertisements, or seeing a nail commercial on television, the images are small snapshots of normalcy, beauty, and acceptability. These narrow stories affect you whether you know it or not. "It can be difficult, not to mention intimidating, to try and enter yourself into a space where you have never seen yourself represented," Walker said.

Cabrera says that until the root of what our society defines as "beautiful" is addressed, there will continually be an unbalanced representation across the board. Walker added: "There's a knowledge gap in the industry that leads to a lot of unconscious exclusion, and we need to make an effort to do better and realize where our blind spots are."

The thing about biases and stereotypes that lead to fatphobia and, ultimately, a lack of representation, is that the biased things we hear and see as children becomes the lens we end up evaluating the world through. It's the reason why Walker believes that nobody is actively thinking about hand sizes — and that is the problem. The solution? "The onus falls on the people hiring and scouting the hand models, creating the ads, and buying the photos for stock photography," Cabrera said. "These individuals need to ensure proper representation."

Hands appear everywhere in advertising, and there is no question that the nail industry is lacking when it comes to representation. If consumers aren't seeing people that they can relate to within the media and stock photography, it becomes hard for them to feel welcomed or celebrated. Once we widen our scope on what beauty is and make the shift to more inclusive and representative practices — via hand models and the media — then the industry overall will begin to change for the better.