Hitting the Nail on the Head

Nail Art Is For The Elderly Too

At the nail salon, I saw an 80+ year old woman getting her nails done. Her hands were wrinkled and veined, her knuckles were enlarged, but her nails — each a different color — were spectacular. I was startled that a woman her age would want nail art, and then thought, “Why am I assuming that fancy nails are for young people only?”

Liquid nail polish was invented in 1907, and tastes have evolved ever since. The French manicure came from Paris in the mid 70s. Nail art emerged in the 80s. Today, women use nail art for fun and self-expression. I guess I figured elderly women didn’t crave fun and self-expression. I wasn’t just ageist; I was wrong.

Last spring, NAILS Magazine, an industry publication for nail technicians, featured a number of women aged 55 and over who indulge in nail art at the salon. One of them is 87-year old Prat Messer. Introduced to nail art this spring, she began “hanging out” in the lobby of her retirement community much more than she used to. “People were noticing my nails even in the elevator!” she said. Apparently, nail art is more than self-expression; it increases opportunities for social interaction.

Naomi Koshkin Friedman, 95, says that getting her nails done makes her feel young and alive again:

“Everyone in the retirement community is envious… they don’t have the guts to express their inner artistic side like me. Where I live, they talk about me. Let them talk.”

Elderly women aren’t supposed to be adventurous, spontaneous, frivolous or outrageous. They’re supposed to be invisible. Nail art makes them visible again.

Nail art combats boredom — one of the greatest challenges of Long Term Care. It’s simple and low cost. It seems perfect for inter-generational programs. So why isn’t nail art commonplace in Long Term Care settings? Probably because people like me assume that 80 and 90-year olds want boring nails.

The National Center for Creative Aging and organizations like it are dedicated to “fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and quality of life of older people.” Creative expression doesn’t require that individuals have exceptional talent or physical prowess. It doesn’t require expensive programs. Creative expression as we age is within everyone’s reach. It’s at the tip of your fingers.

Photos courtesy NAILS Magazine; nail designs by Athena Elliot, SPAthena Salon, Houston, TX., Facebook/Angela Cooke via Love What Matters