Purple Nails and the Man Box

BY Ross from UPLIFT
Purple Nails and the Man Box
My Journey with Masculinity

“Please Daddy!!” the words that make most fathers crack. In my case, it was my seven-year-old daughter pleading excitedly, bouncing around the room like Tigger out of Winnie The Pooh. It was nail painting time and wouldn’t it be great if Daddy painted his nails too?! I apprehensively looked at the utter thrill and excitement in her eyes and I instantly knew I was done for; how could I say no to that?

At this moment I became truly aware of my internal monologue; “I’m a middle age guy, yes I’m a more liberal type of person but painting my nails?! I couldn’t possibly paint my nails, that’s women’s business!”

After this initial reaction, the voice slowly started to change and formed into a very clear inner inquiry; “Why the hell can’t I paint my nails?”

The Man Box

I first heard the term ‘the Man Box’ on a TED talk by Tony Porter called A Call to Men. Tony explains ‘the Man Box’ as a metaphorical container, into which society has put all our cultural beliefs of what it means to be an archetypal man. In our contemporary patriarchal western society, ‘real’ men are generally expected to be strong, fearless, courageous, dominating and reserved with emotions.

This programming starts from a very early age. The Man Box culture dictates that boys are taught to be emotionally reserved, brave, stoic and competitive. Those qualities seen as more feminine such as expressing emotions, crying or being vulnerable are typically discouraged. The rules are blindly enforced, with those who do not toe the line, often being labelled as ‘soft,’ ‘gay’ or are scolded, “not to be a girl.” The unfortunate reality is that these behaviours are not inherent to boys; they are not born this way. Instead, this is what boys are taught and conditioned to believe.

As many boys grow physically into men, there is often peer pressure to prove their place in the Man Box culture by acting out these taught behaviours. Teenage boys particularly, can act with bravado and begin to accentuate immature masculine traits.

What is a 'Man?'Early on, boys are exposed to societal ideas of what makes a ‘man.’

By the time men fully mature physically, these behaviours become ingrained and unquestioned, in turn ensuring the continuation of this patriarchal culture dominated by false masculine power and male privilege. So deep is this programming, that the majority don’t question whether this way serves their deepest needs or authentic self. The results of this perpetuating culture are plainly seen throughout society.

Fortunately, many men are awakening to question society’s current expectations of what it means to be a man and starting to challenge this Man Box culture with a passionate feeling that it’s time for a radical rethink. My purple nails certainly gave me a lot to think about.

The Colour Purple

The experience of painting our nails together was both magical and innocent, but while dropping my daughter at school the following morning, I found it hard not to get distracted by the strange presence of the bright purple nail polish.

I usually grab a quick coffee on my way to work from the same place. It was at this point that the innocent playtime with my daughter turned into my own personal social experiment. The barista when taking my order, smiling and with a little sparkle in her eyes, greets me with, “Morning, ah wow, I love your nails!”. This reaction quickly became the pattern of my interactions with most women for the next few days. I was told how the colour suited me, how it matched what I was wearing, and how it’s great to see a man with painted nails. At the very least the reaction I got from women was a curious smile.

The reaction I got from men was somewhat different. A silent appraisal at best, but mostly a look of startled confusion. The confusion that, here’s a man, a generally ‘normal’ manly looking man who’s not doing what our culture expects a ‘normal’ man to do. I had unwittingly challenged the rules of The Man Box. I was intrigued.

Challenging the normI had unwittingly challenged society’s outdated perception of Manliness.

Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life. – Terry Pratchett

Journey of Discovery

The past few years for me have been an immense journey of discovery. As with many men in these times, I’ve grappled with the question of what it means to be a modern man. In the era of, #MeToo, ‘toxic masculinity’, angry white men and predominantly male World leaders, many men are, willingly or unwillingly, having to recalibrate.

This has not been an easy process. As with many men of my generation I grew up with the familiar catchphrases filling my subconscious, ‘be a man,’ ‘real men don’t cry,’ ‘you’re acting like a little girl,’ ‘don’t be a sissy,’ and many more. I was also constantly surrounded by misogynistic locker room talk that focused on somebody’s latest conquest and the commonplace objectification of women. Homophobic derogatory slurs and putdowns where unleashed if any man did not conform to this code of conduct.

Obviously, it has taken time to go through the inner process of slowly deconstructing my learned beliefs of what it means to be a man.  This has been an evolution rather than a revolution. As I slowly chipped away, it astounded me just how much I sold myself short. For years I excelled at playing the stoic and reserved male. I literally could not cry and saw this as a good thing. I hated dancing, frowned at overly public displays of affection or vulnerability, and tried my hardest to look like a ‘normal’ guy. But underneath this public facade, I was angry and felt very much out of step with the world, not to mention light years away from my authentic self. I would project this anger on to people around me, especially the women in my life, as if it was somehow their fault. I wallowed in being the victim, not realising I was perpetuating the causes of my own suffering.

A Healthy Masculinity

The transformation point for me was getting into yoga and meditation in my late twenties. Through these practices, I slowly started to become more aware of my body, my emotional state, and awaken to the possibility of a different way of being. In this new environment, I met other guys who had also started questioning their place in the world as men. They gave me the signposts towards starting to find a new, more balanced and connected way of being a true man. Including an understanding of the nuances and many facets of a more mature and healthy form of masculinity.

Men's CircleMy Men’s Circle has helped me get comfortable with expressing my emotions.

I now regularly sit in a group circle with other men and have discovered the power of being vulnerable and expressing my deepest emotions. I have learned it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed or to be scared, these emotions are all part of the fabric of my life. I’ve also learned about the beauty of being gentle, soft and compassionate. Mostly, I have let go of feeling that I have to be and act a certain way. Now, I can show up authentically: first, simply as a human being and secondly, as my own version of a man. I recognise that I have ultimate sovereignty and responsibility for myself.

Time for a New Colour

It’s now a couple of weeks since my daughter harmlessly painted my nails. Such a simple act that could be taboo for many men wasn’t even noticed by a seven-year-old girl. In her beautiful, untainted innocence, she simply wanted to share a moment of fun and connection with her daddy.

Some of the purple polish is still there but it’s starting to look a little sad, faded and chipped around the edges. My daughter has suggested it’s time to repaint my nails in a new colour, maybe silver glitter. I couldn’t help but smile as I reflected on the resonance of her statement. It’s time for our notion of a man to try on new colours. Our Man Box culture is ready for its makeover.

Finding a new culture for men should not be focused on ‘fixing’ our traditional gender binary view of masculinity, but coming from the deeper perspective that we are all first and foremost human beings. Whatever gender we may identify with, we all have the capacity to be vulnerable and express our deepest emotions. We all have the potential and responsibility to show up in a more conscious, connected, empowered and authentic way.

It’s from this starting point, as we evolve into a more conscious way of being and grow deeper capacities for an authentic connection with Self, that we will better realise it is possible for us to choose those facets, both masculine and feminine, that we wish to embrace as more conscious people in the world.

I’m off to redo my nails now. My daughter is ready and bouncing with joy. This man is showing up for his daughter, for diversity and inclusion. I’m a little bit wiser, a lot softer and let’s face it … a whole lot more colourful.


Do you have a journey to share about transformation, and how you started showing up in a new way in the world? Are you a man that has started to break out of the box? Please let us know in the comments below.

Many blessings.

Team Uplift

BY Ross from UPLIFT
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Jay Floyd
3 years ago

This post was sent to my by a friend who’s familiar with a recent and very similar event in my own life. My friend is a piano player and wanted to paint his fingernails. I decided, what the heck – and painted my big toenail. The surge of homophobia that welled up in me was absurd and clearly an unhealed part of my gay self. So I painted the other big toenail as well and decided to keep it on until it didn’t matter anymore. It’s not a quick process, this getting down to who we really are stuff. I really appreciated this – thanks so much.

4 years ago

I believe painting nails or not painting nails should not be so much of an issue. What should be brought to the table more often is the simple right to be vulnerable without feeling you are in the wrong body and therefore question your gender. Vulnerability is part of humanity. When we talk about toxic masculinity we enter a world of lack of wanting to be vulnerable, which turns toxic to others. How to avoid toxic masculinity? I suggest it is not by changing gender, but by becoming a better man geared toward his family. Nail polish to please a little daughter? Why not?

4 years ago

Look at indigenous people. In all tribes the men were warriors, they had to be hard and tough to hunt and kill wild animals,the women took care of their young. It is nature and not nurtured. I do not believe we should blame it all on today’s society. However, we are all evolving, getting softer as all our needs are met daily. Thousands of years from now the human race might evolve to one sex, no feminine or masculine, the ying and yang merged in all things, no opposites. What a boring world it might be then.

4 years ago

I actually read this article. I thought it was a great article. Glitter. Nope, no one likes glitter lol messy!!! Have fun and wonderful day

4 years ago

No, please keep reading. You may eventually come around.

KD Sparks
4 years ago

Nice! This is thoughtful and shows exactly the kind of open heart that can help deliver us from the restrictions that our cultural expectations around gender have created for society. Being able to acknowledge, reflect, and step outside the programming onslaught with which we are met in life is the mark of growth. Bravo, keep up the good work and keep sharing with the world — don’t mind the naysayers and haters, as some people are just not in a growth mindset. Their choice. In the meantime, you simply can’t go wrong with glitter. 🙂

4 years ago

I love this..

Jeffrey Maas
4 years ago

Ended up with painted nails after commenting to my niece “why pay to get your nails done, it can’t be that hard.” I chose black cause I play guitar and remember seeing Dave Navarro with black nails. Well it’s not easy to paint your own nails. I made a huge mess and they looked pretty awful. Thing is I liked how it looked. We look at our own hands more than anyone else and i thought it looked badass. Body decoration began when Male warriors painted their skin and nails, tied items in their hair and went off to battle. In honor of those men our ancestors the warriors. I am busting out that bottle of polish. Oh btw, the other reason men used to get painted up was to get chicks.

Garry Gilfoy
4 years ago

Nice piece. I’m a counsellor and in my experience with self and others, I’d say most inner conflict comes from the clash between what we want to do or be and what we think we should do or be. It starts early. It comes from the peculiarities of our own family, which gets easy to see as we grow up and break free, but it also comes from our culture, which we don’t break free of when we leave home. We need to work to see it, and then work it. The greatest tool for this is the development of empathy, and ironically, to develop empathy we need to allow ourselves to suffer. Walls down. Let the hurt in. The facade of happiness can come second to growth. Richness.

4 years ago

I loved this article and was surprised by the negative comments. I think it is a huge step in the right direction when any of us start to question our inner dialogue, behaviors and social conditioning. Bravo!

4 years ago

What a wonderful article! It reminds me of someone I know who was a stay-at-home father while his wife went out to work (this suited them both very well). He happily participated in the make-up and dressing up sessions with his daughters when asked to. He also started his own company and did all the DIY around the house. A man with little ego and plenty of heart and soul. Isn’t that what we all want for human kind, more heart and soul and less ego-driven pride and arrogance – regardless of gender?

4 years ago

What a wonderful article, thank you for sharing.

4 years ago

Hi Uplift,
Thank you for this heart-warming sharing. I feel the love and warmth coming through you, and also the inner courage and stoicism it takes for anyone, male or female, to put themselves ‘out there’ in ways that confront prescriptive beliefs about what it is to be masculine or feminine….even when presented in the kindest of ways.

Ann Albers
4 years ago

Great article. I think we should all become more conscious of who we are as souls and less identified with the cultural gender and societal programming. We are in the midst of a vast paradigm shift about what it means to be “man” or “woman” with both sexes trying to integrate head and heart, divine masculine and divine feminine. I applaud the author for sharing these thoughts and encouraging the growth beyond conditioning.

4 years ago

Dear God. What’s next? Pierced ears for men?…oh, wait.

4 years ago

Sorry, I don’t buy this. This whole topic is spiraling down with no one at the wheel. I’m sorry but being more feminine does not make me feel more of a man. If we wonder what masculinity really means today – why on Earth are we constantly trying to feminize men? I can embrace my own masculinity without painting my nails.

Franz haas
4 years ago


4 years ago

The traits that men shows or women are not conditioned by society. This is complete BS. The behaviour has been formed round the world unconnected with one another over thousands of year. We all know that behaviour and reactions are closely related to chemicals our body releases. The toxicity of behaviour has nothing to do with masculinity. A man is not complete till he becomes Gentlemen. Men have fought all through history against men for upholding the propriety. The author has fallen in another type of mental box

4 years ago

i think the author doesnt understand stoicism at all. in case of a child wanting to paint the father’s nails, the father could get it done and walk around without feeling shame or judgement for self, thats a stoic mindset. thats the mark of a true man. overthinking about judgement from society is a negative emotion, and thats why its discouraged. lets assume the man in subject certainly isn’t in any habit of painting nails but involving himself in that practice doesn’t make him feel guilty or shameful. he simply doesn’t care. thats a stoic. this is why masculinity can never be deemed toxic. if a person is toxic they just aren’t masculine.

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