Nail Art: An Exercise of Women Power

The original plan was just to get a haircut and then head to the mall for lunch and a little shopping with the kids.  But then Tonette’s stylist (as in nobody touches her hair except him), Ambet Sagum of Salon de Timog, mesmerized us with his dazzling black metallic nails and we were hooked.

Patmei, Ambet, Pia and Tonette show off their nail art

Patmei, Ambet, Pia and Tonette show off their nail art

So naturally we have got to have nails as cool as Ambet’s, too. No matter if we’re already past our teen years and that my friend Tonette is actually Atty. Maria Anthonette Velasco-Allones, the Executive Director of the Career Executive Service Board (CESB) and 2009 TOYM Awardee for Human Resource Development.

Tonette is my soul sister.  We met during President Erap’s campaign in 1998 and became fast friends. She was Defense Secretary Orly Mercado’s chief-of-staff and I was Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora’s chief-of-staff. A lot of men (and women) were threatened by our mere presence because the power we wielded as single young women then made them uncomfortable.  Usually, young women in political leadership positions are almost always perceived as having only gotten the post because we slept our way to the top or because we are related to the appointing officer. Not because we are very good at what we do and are comfortable handling power. That is why old politicos often treat us in a patronizing manner, seldom as their equals. On the other hand, a lot of mediocre and incompetent men rise to the top because of competent staff support (mostly from women like us and some gays, too) and because they have mastered the art of kissing ass as well as divide and conquer. So Tonette and I bonded over our resistance against the old boys’ club. We were like sisters-in-combat who watched each other’s backs and provided each other loving support.

Tonette & Patmei - soul sisters comfortably embracing women power

Tonette & Patmei – soul sisters comfortably embracing women power

Tonette and I were in the frontlines of the war against gender double standard in politics. When men act like rude assholes, they are described as “strong leaders.”  But when women speak their minds in an assertive manner and go after what they want, they are called “bitches.”  When men brag and flex their power muscles, they are admired for their aggressiveness.  With women who exercise the same power, they are criticized and accused of being “scheming” and “arrogant” and must be “put in place.”

I reflect on this now in the context of having our nails painted with art.  Why can powerful men wear tacky barongs to work and get away with inappropriate attire in a formal ceremony but women must be careful not to wear anything that might be perceived as “frivolous” like nail art or pink Hello Kitty crocs, for instance?

Patmei's funky nails at 40

Patmei’s funky nails at 40

Women in positions of leadership are expected to act and present themselves in a certain way to ensure that people take them seriously. Men hardly bother with those things because they are seen for their ideas and contributions first.  In the world of politics, women are much more often criticized for how they dress while the men just wear the usual and no one even bothers to comment. Men can get away with idiotic comments and still get respect. Women can deliver the most profound message and still be criticized for wearing the wrong outfit while saying it.

Mother & daughter bond over nail art

Mother & daughter bond over nail art

So when Tonette hesitated a bit to try nail art in case she’s called to Malacañang to brief the Executive Secretary the following Monday, I assured her that her brilliant mind would be dazzling enough for them to still be distracted by her glittering nails. So she went ahead and had a deep shade of maroon as base coat with a dainty white floral design that is the same on all her ten fingernails. Tonette’s six-year old daughter Pia (also named “Patricia” like me), every inch her mother’s daughter, also had nail art done on her tiny fingernails with pink and yellow flowers.  I, on the other hand, chose a more funky approach and urged Rose, my nail artist, to run wild with her own creative designs – each fingernail sporting a different look. And she did, indeed, prompting hairstylist Ambet to be so jealous!

Nail art has been around 3,000 years Before Christ. As most cool things, the Chinese started it when they used enamel on their fingers and left it to sit for several hours resulting in a pink finish on their nails.  The Indians also had nail art using dye from the Henna plant. Egyptians used nail art to identify what social class you belong to. The higher class wore deep shades of red and lower classes wore pale shades.  The Incas, meanwhile, painted images of eagles on their fingertips.

Imeldific nail art for the true, the good, and the beautiful  (AP Photo/ Pat Roque)

Imeldific nail art for the true, the good, and the beautiful (AP Photo/ Pat Roque)

So Tonette and I are just continuing on the tradition of all the Chinese dragon ladies and the Cleopatras of history. For us, nail art isn’t just a fashion accessory for teeny-boppers in Tokyo, Korea, and Shanghai.  It is also a political statement and a form of self-expression (now that we have a “self” to express). And at 40 years old, it means I have finally embraced my funky side and no longer care what others might think of me. Now that’s real power.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, August 3, 2010