Bubblegum Pink Polish

The other day my friend Sue gave me some non-toxic nail polish to try out. My 5-year-old Hannah was beyond thrilled to see the little bottle filled with bubblegum pink promise, so we headed straight to the back yard for an impromptu nail polish party. Of course, my 23-month-old Jacob came along to see what was up.

I painted Hannah’s toes, and she painted her own fingers and one of my toes. I painted the rest of my toes. The whole time Jacob was reaching for the little polish brush. I didn’t give it to him, because, you know, he’s a toddler. Even though the nail polish is non-toxic and we were outside, I couldn’t see any good coming from handing off a bottle of the stuff to a kid his age. I could see spilling, breaking, ingesting, clothes-ruining or patio-decorating coming from it, but no good. I’m always raining on everyone’s parades.

Hannah does her own fingernails
Hannah painting her fingernails

As Jacob’s frantic shrieking and pointing escalated, though, I finally got his message. He didn’t really want to play with the bottle of nail polish. He wanted to take part in the party. Why should he be the only one in the back yard with plain toes?

I could think of no reason why my son shouldn’t have the bubblegum pink polish his little heart desired. As soon as I started applying the polish he stopped reaching for the brush. He was more than happy to let me apply the colour, so long as he got some. Of course, he promptly ruined one of his big toes by grabbing it while it was still wet, but he was not the least bit concerned about the smudge. He looked at his toes and smiled, satisfied, before running off to play.

Jacob had to get in on the fancy toes
Jacob’s fancy toes

Because Jacob has a big sister, he engages in a lot of traditional ‘girl’ play, and not always willingly. He wears sparkly tiaras and fluffy boas. He nurses his dolls and reads books about fairies. He also loves trucks and balls and pressing buttons and all sorts of traditional ‘boy’ play. But through Hannah he is exposed to a much wider variety of toys and ways of playing than he would likely be if he were the oldest. People just don’t tend to buy ‘girl’ things for boys, even people like me who consider themselves evolved. I would likely buy my son at least a few stuffed toys and a doll, but probably not an entire chest full of princess costumes.

And yet, even as I struggle, I don’t like the way that we bar males in our society from all things ‘female’. Would I dress my 3-month-old boy in a pink dress? I wouldn’t, but I would totally dress my 3-month-old girl in ‘boy’ clothes. I painted my son’s toenails pink, but I didn’t think to offer, and I know that other people will look twice when I do. While we have opened gender doors for women, we’ve left them closed for men. And I think that, at least in part, it’s because we still view the feminine as lesser, and any man who engages in feminine activities as lesser, too.

So much bubblegum pink-ness
Polish applied and ready to go

Regardless of why we’re here and why I still opt for a red bike for Jacob’s birthday over a pink one, I suppose that I can do my part to slowly break down this gender barrier. I can paint Jacob’s toes pink if he asks, and tell my daughter that in fact he does not look like a girl. He just looks like Jacob with pink toes, playing in the summer sunshine, no gender implications required

Would you paint your son’s toenails pink? And what do you think about the way that we divide children’s clothes and toys and activities by gender? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Tammy Graves de Wit says:

    haha!loved this post Amber,and it is so true! My son would have done EXACTLY the same thing…and yes I would have painted the toes.Daniel has adopted a pink blankie as his special one,and I think its great!It wasn't meant to be his *blankie* but hey who can blame him? Its the best one in the house! The boy has good taste!I love that fact that he is innocent and simply has no frame of reference as to what *gender* roles are.He also loves to prance around in Caitlins princess dresses!It's all good!

  2. Sue Sinclair says:

    Riley got his fingernails painted with the Hopscotch Kids polish at our warehouse event a week ago. Like Jacob, he just wanted to participate in the fun!

  3. “he doesn’t look like a girl, he just looks like Jacob with pink toes,” I love that!
    themombshell’s last post … I am mommyMy Profile

  4. the jellybean is an only child, so he doesn’t have an older sister to learn “girl” things. but he has his stuffies which he carries around and nurtures. he has had his finger and toe nails painted several times, while watching his big girl cousins do theirs. this weekend he had the best time playing barbies with the girls we were visiting. i don’t think anything of it. if he is having fun, where’s the harm?
    smothermother’s last post … Ya Deutschland-My Profile

  5. We totally didn’t buy any gender specific toys for our daughter, that is until she started asking for them. The train table we got lay untouched until my son was old enough to stand himself up and run the train cars down the tracks by himself. The other squishy cars we bought for her that were perfect for diaper bag toys were ignored by her but LOVED by my son. But the Christmas she got her first doll it was love at first sight!! That being said, my son will happily drive his stuffed friends around in the doll stroller, sit at Cake’s beauty parlour and brush his hair (or his shoulders or his feet!) and he has no idea that these are ‘girl’ toys. I guess it’s all about preference! I too have painted his toenails…but shhhh don’t tell my husband!!!!

  6. I would have painted his toes too. Probably, like you, I wouldn’t have thought to do it, but if my son had asked, I’d have obliged. When my youngest son was 3, he had a blast playing at a female friend’s house with her play kitchen. My MIL is a voracious garage-saler, so we put her on the alert to find one and she did. It was pink and aqua and sparkly and he loved it. Her husband snarled more that once that it wasn’t “very masculine”, but I didn’t see anything wrong with encouraging my son to enjoy pretending to “cook” and “clean” in his little kitchen. He watches his dad cook and clean, so why shouldn’t he want to emulate that behavior? Both of my boys went through phases of loving Dora the Explorer and my oldest son has enjoyed playing with my old Barbies at my parents’ house. Kids are kids first, their gender second…we should encourage them to embrace all interests!
    Earth Muffin’s last post … Vacation- the good- the bad and the uglyMy Profile

  7. victoria says:

    i actualy painted kates toes the other night! too funny! and once when alex was younger i put flowers on his toes- he went out with sandles on toe show them off!- and he is a strapping boy who loves sports, bodily functions are discussed regularly and he thinks girls are ‘yucky’
    see amber all is good!

  8. I make a conscious effort not to do too much gender-related play or buy “boy” toys specifically. Kieran has dolls that he nurses and cuddles, he’s had his toenails painted, he plays dress up, etc. He also has a beautiful head of hair, which he can cut when he decides to 🙂
    Dionna @ Code Name: Mama’s last post … We Are Free to NIPMy Profile

  9. Toes and fingernails! And he rocks a ponytail, just like his sister.
    Capital Mom’s last post … PatienceMy Profile

  10. yes to toenails for my Wee Guy
    not sure about the toys being gender-specific or not …… i have this sneaky suspicion we buy toys which are parent-specific unless he voices a strong preference. at 7y old he’s starting to voice gender-specific observations which i think come parrot-fashion from school – i’m breathing a big sigh of relief that i don’t have to go thru the princess/hannah montana goo with him, though i’m wondering if i’ll get thru transformers/thrash metal/awful male teen fashions

    interesting times ahead
    pomomama aka ebbandflo’s last post … friday forte- decision timeMy Profile

  11. Since I have 2 girls I don’t know how I would deal with a boy. Supposing we have a 3rd child and that child ends up being a boy I suspect there will be lots of girly things that he will play with mainly cause that is what we have for toys.

    I know V loves “boy” stuff and is starting to recognize there are differences between boys and girls and what they can or cannot do. The other day she said she wasn’t allowed to play with something (I think it might have been the Buzz and Woody toys) because they were BOY toys. I told her she could do or play with whatever she wanted and that sometimes boys played with girl stuff so it was okay.

    Clearly she has picked this up from school from kids who are already fully involved in the whole boy vs girl toy thing.
    Carrie’s last post … Birthday RecapMy Profile

  12. I think the key is something you already mentioned. You didn’t offer, but you didn’t turn him down when he asked. It’s the concept of force that always disturbs me when it comes to gender. Some things just flow naturally. Our little girls adore dress up, their little boy friends, usually not so much, but sometimes yes. Our girls also love catching bugs and digging in the dirt. I let them chose what they want to wear and even let them have some input into what clothing we buy. But would I force them to buy boy clothes when they yearn for tiaras? Or make a future son try out pink when he was vehemently against the idea? Definitely not.

    I know we can’t help influencing our children’s preferences to a certain degree, but I hope I’m open to respecting THEIR influences in our home. The certainly seem to come into this world with their own ideas about things.
    Kimberly’s last post … SickMy Profile

  13. My son has an older sister as well. He used to paint his finger nails on a regular basis. I think he started around age 2. At age 4 he would paint them a nice dark blue shade everytime he went to his speach therapy appointments. It was clear his therapist thought this was strange but I didn’t care. At that point he was in JK and wouldn’t wear it to school but just wanted to look fancy for his therapist. A year of so later he totally outgrew it.

  14. Your son’s toes look awesome!

    I’ve struggled with this same mess. I bought my eldest, Elizabeth trucks and toys that you would normally call ‘boy toys’ but I have yet to buy my son a tu tu. That said, there’s enough of those flying around the house, half the time with him in one, that it’s really not an issue. I am trying to raise our kids gender equal, but it’s hard.

    Think of how we treat adult men. My husbands work has a highly sexist work clothes policy (my words, not his) In the hot summer the ladies in his office can wear short skirts, tank tops ect as long as they are ‘dressy’. But there is a strict no shorts policy for the men. Not even nice dress shorts! I know it seems trivial, but our days are filled with these acceptable discriminations. It’s bizarre! I really hope some of these issues get dealt with in our society before my little sensitive boy grows up.
    Laura’s last post … Give me an inch- -amp Ill stuff it silly-My Profile

  15. Our son Riley has also had his fingernails painted and like Jacob, he just wanted to be included in the party!


    Sue Sinclair
    Chief Executive Mom, Raspberry Kids

  16. My son’s toes are red right now. He sees me paint mine and wants his done. It is interesting to me that he says he wants his toes “painted like Mama, not plain like Papa”. He already understands painted toes as a Mama vs Papa thing but not a boy vs girl thing. I know at some point this will change (school, probably) but for now I appreciate his innocence and freedom to paint his toes if he wants…so I’m not going to step in the way.
    AmberDusick’s last post … My MomMy Profile

  17. I’d do it too. What I especially love to see is when an older boy wants it done. There is a boy who went to kindergarden with my oldest this past year and he used to come to school with painted toes. He has older sisters too so is definitely influenced by them, but I love that both of his parents are so cool with it.
    Melodie’s last post … Telephone Interruptions and BreastfeedingMy Profile

  18. I am so happy you painted his toes! What child doesn’t like dress up play and pretend!?!?! My step daughter (who is now 15) was never allowed to play with gender specific toys – specific to her gender that is. She was never given dolls or barbies or babies. She had an older brother and wore his hand me down clothes and played with his hand me down toys. When she was given a doll by my dad when she was about 5, she didn’t know what to do with it…in fact, she handed it back to my dad and told him she didn’t like dolls. It was very strange to see a little girl not play with anything remotely ‘girly’. As she grew up, it was challenging for her to interact with peers. She often didn’t want to play along with them. Choosing more to play soccer and sports.

    It wasn’t until she was a few months shy of her 11th birthday and we were having Emma that my step daughter embaced her gender. She was all about dolls and babies and playing house all of a sudden. It turns out she had a closet girly side that she kept very will hidden as to not dissapoint her mom and her moms beliefs. Now though, she is a very althetic well balanced, beautiful young women.

    Our house is full of dress up and dolls. We have a train table and a workbench full of tools too though. We have cars and boats and planes and fire trucks too. There are lots of pink clothes, but lots of black and blue and red too. There is no real tip to the balance of gender stuff in our house. Our girls dance and play soccer. This fall Emma will join her frst Scouting group (cubs). Our village has only Scouts and there is a nice mix of boy and girls. I like the balance. I like having both. Dirt and makeup are good in our house.

  19. Hi Amber. This is Ginny (Hopscotch Kids, founder). I can’t tell you how many little boys nails I have painted over this past year and how many grateful smiles I have received from those sweet boys. We have actually looked at creating a “super hero” line just for them. We have a bright blue, red, black, and green that would fit the bill! Glad to see you are enjoying the polish. Heads up – the adult line, Scotch Naturals launches in September. Sue will surely have the first colours off the production line 🙂

  20. I have painted my son’s toes pink…although technically it was more red than pink. My son is the older of the two kids so we had a lot of boys baby clothes when Em was born. I originally planned on dressing her in all of his old cast-offs – after all she was a tiny baby and wouldn’t care. But after I did it once or twice I stopped because I realized that I didn’t really like dressing my daughter like a boy. If she wants to wear boy clothes now she could but when I was choosing for her I liked the boy-girl division. That’s just me.

    As it turns out my kids are very boy and very girl. Case in point Em burst into tears this morning when I tried to put her in a t-shirt instead of a dress.

    I don’t think a little gender mixing is a bad thing but I also don’t think it’s necessary to try to smooth it all out. I think it’s ok for there to be boys things and girls things. That said if a boy wants to dance ballet that’s fine and if my daughter begs to watch the Monster Trucks on TV while wearing her tutu that’s fine too.
    Marilyn’s last post … Stepping Back in Time at the Burnaby Village MuseumMy Profile

  21. Whenever this topic comes up I have to brag about my husband, as it is HIM who notices these things in the way stores are set up and toys are marketed. I grew up playing with bugs and other toys from the blue and green aisle of the store, but it is more acceptable for girls to be “tomboys”. There is no equivalent to the term tomboy that isn’t offensive.

    Our son will grow up watching Dad make dinner and Mom scoop bugs out of the house, so I’m not too worried about gender neutral role models. 😉 I can personally say that I WOULD think to offer nail polish to the boy, pink or otherwise. Perhaps that comes up as growing up with a brother seven years my junior – a little boy who spent a great deal of his childhood in dresses and bonnets, yet grew up to be a normal (and very masculine) young adult.

    I’m interested to see what sort of toys and activities my son, as the oldest, will be naturally drawn to!
    J – Alternative Housewife’s last post … Sunday Link LoveMy Profile

  22. If I tried to paint my toes without including my boys there would be hell to pay.

    It irritates the crap out of me that toy isles are segregated, that there are still people who say “oh no that’s a boy/girl toy,” to whom those isles appeal. Like a woman at the park one day years ago who referred to the sand digger thingee as “kind of boyish” when her daughter wanted to try it. Seriously? WTF? Nothing in our house, except my bras, the stove and various poisons, are off limits to my kids. (And the bras are because they’re the one thing that is exclusively mine, not because of any Cross Dressing Panic.)
    clara’s last post … Annual Review- Year FourMy Profile

  23. Oh god, I can’t count the time Angus was painted – fingers and toes – and he didn’t have a big sister. He used to grab for purple nightgowns in his stroller as we wheeled through the clothes departments. He’s worn Eve’s nightgowns on several occasions. My friend has a fabulous story about her five-year-old son coming out of his room naked except for pink high heels, looking at her, saying ‘princess meeting!’, walking into her daughter’s room and closing the door. I circled the toy store five times looking for the broom and mop set Angus desperately wanted before I realized I had to go down the ‘pink’ aisle, and yes, I was pissed.
    allison’s last post … Pardon my ungraceful re-entranceMy Profile

  24. I think about this all the time too. When my boy 4 year old S chooses pink (his current favorite colour) I find I encourage this, or at least acknowledge in a positive way. When my girl 2 year old M chooses it (probably emulating big bro) I find that I am more neutral. I have always been frustrated with clothing for kids, and am Very Picky at the thrift store. No logos, no disney, no specific gender distinctions. So all the clothes we had for our first are totally used by our second. I’ve made some clothes too. I still haven’t gotten them into Dress-up (I have guilt about this!). M knows exactly what she wants to wear and changes / layers many outfits at a time, S prefers hte same old same old every day. I am bemused when I see “traditional” gender splits between my boy and girl. And wonder why that is. Could there really be a difference at this preschool age?!?

    just found your blog, looks interesting! My sister is making a life in suburban vanc, too, despite herself. She is doing an awesome job bringing some soul to the suburbs!

  25. Kirsten says:

    If one more stranger looks down at my tangle-haired, primary colours wearing girl and randomly asks (after the usual “what’s your name” and “are you starting Kindergarten next year” questions) “and do you like PRINCESSES?” my head is going to fucking explode. (Can i swear on your blog? Seems like such a polite place…)

    Explode. Boom.

    What’s done to kids’ (and adults’) self-esteem in the name of heteronormativity is unconscionable.

    Hey did you read about the doctor in Florida who has developed a treatment that will reduce the chances that your in utero girl will become a lesbian?

    Explodey. My head.

  26. In my (small) experience, my kids have shown differences based on gender from early infancy. Not in the colors they like, but in the way they play: loud banging, throwing, lots of action and movement for the boys, which lead to ball games and fast bikes etc, vs the gentle playing and interest in all the subtle details of everything that my daughter shows, which leads to dolls to dress and undress etc.

  27. Yep, agree that society is “allowing” girls to bend traditional gender roles, but not so much for the boys. I encourage all their singing and dancing, to balance out the shooting, smashing, and battling that goes on around here. 😉
    Lady M’s last post … Sealife- the Real KindMy Profile

  28. I would have done the same thing 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with experiencing painted toes 🙂 Just as long as he doesn’t suck on his toes of course LOL
    Pink is also just another color. It’s great when they don’t identify a color with gender. Jack actually has a favorite pacifier for bed time, and it’s pink. I don’t know why he prefers it, he has 3 other ones in the crib with him. He does use them all, but for some reason pink is his first choice.
    I think it’s great to expose kids to everything no matter what we feel is not gender appropriate.
    My husband has issues with boys having dolls. He doesn’t think it’s something they should have. But stuff animals or figures are different. We actually call the little figurines/characters Dudes. Maybe we would have called them dolls if we had a daughter. But calling them dudes is just as fun, especially when you hear a little toddler saying DUDE all the time 🙂
    Sara’s last post … big boy undiesMy Profile

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  1. […] few weeks ago I talked about painting my son’s toenails pink. The backstory is that I received some Hopscotch Kids Nail Polish from my friend Sue at Raspberry […]

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