Fingernail polish has become a predominantly female fashion since the first lacquer was invented way back in 3000 BC. Nowadays, ladies can choose from a vast array of different colors and styles to express ourselves. Nonetheless, thousands of men around the world are now donning nail polish as well – but only on one finger.
With the trend sweeping across Australia, the United States and some European countries, men must have good reasons for sporting the one-painted-nail look. Since manicures are culturally understood to be for the ladies, guys generally aren’t running out to express themselves with nail polish, lest their manliness be called into question.
However, now even the most masculine of males can slap on some color – and feel good about it to boot. The trend is actually a full-blown movement that aims to draw attention to an important issue. And the idea is that if a man can draw attention to his brightly painted fingernail, he can open up a conversation.
With celebs such as Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman jumping on the painted-nail bandwagon, it shouldn’t be hard for the average guy to lacquer up as well. The ongoing campaign, referred to as Polished Man, was started several years ago by Elliot Costello, a young Australian entrepreneur and activist who quit his corporate career to focus on nonprofit work.
Costello came up with the idea for Polished Man after an impactful volunteer mission in Cambodia, where he befriended a poor young girl. Costello was no stranger to seeing children in difficult circumstances – his father, Tim Costello, is the CEO of well-known aid organization, World Vision International.
“As children, we were exposed to a lot of marginalized people because Dad was a lawyer and a Baptist minister… and Mum has been heavily involved with not-for-profits too,” Costello told The Weekend Australian. “It was always normal to be surrounded by people who were less fortunate.”
However, when Costello encountered this young girl in Cambodia, he learned something about her upbringing that made the realities of poverty hit him right in the gut. Upon meeting Thea, Costello made an immediate connection with the girl, and the two readily bonded.
Despite the language barrier between them, Costello and Thea talked for hours that evening and formed a unique friendship. At the end of the night, Costello let her paint his nails bright blue. Their interaction had been so impactful that Costello sought to learn more about Thea the next day. But what he discovered shook him to the core.
Thea had been sent to an orphanage after her father died when she was only eight years old, Costello learned. She was given up by her mother, who thought Thea would receive better care at the institution than at home. Sadly, this was far from the truth. Thea was repeatedly abused both physically and sexually from the ages of eight to ten.
And Costello was so sickened by Thea’s heartbreaking history that he felt compelled to do something about it. He subsequently decided that he had to share Thea’s story and inform more people about the plight faced by so many other children like her. So, Costello started a fundraising campaign called Polished Man.
Polished Man is the latest venture from Costello’s start-up, YGAP, which stands for Y Generation Against Poverty. Costello created YGAP in 2008 when he and his friends wanted to volunteer in Africa, but discovered that it would cost upwards of $5,000 just to participate. “I thought that was a waste of money,” said Costello.
So rather than paying money to volunteer, Costello instead reached out directly to African groups. “We contacted grassroots organizations in Africa and said, ‘If we gave you a $50,000 donation, what would you do with it?’ and cut out that intermediary,” Costello explained. “To do so, we needed a name, bank account and a website. YGAP was born.”
YGAP now supports humanitarian organizations that promote youth education and help tackle issues such as poverty. Funded primarily through social impact campaigns like Polished Man, “YGAP exists to find and support impact entrepreneurs around the world who are improving the lives of those that experience violence and extreme violence and extreme poverty,” according to Costello. “We achieve this by running campaigns and operating our own social enterprises.”
Another example of YGAP’s projects is their annual 5cent Campaign, which aims to collect all of the five-cent pieces in Australia. “We discovered there was more than $150 million worth of five-cent pieces in circulation and put our hand up to collect them,” Costello explained.
YGAP aims to be funded solely from social enterprises by 2020, and Polished Man is one of the campaigns that’s helping to achieve this goal. The concept of social enterprise fundraising is best explained by an excerpt on Polished Man’s website that answers the question, “What is Polished Man?” The answer reads simply, “A campaign. A movement. A commitment.”
The Polished Man movement has a lofty but admirable goal. “Our mission is to end violence against children, for good” reads its online mission statement. “That’s why we focus on tackling a major root cause of violence against children: poverty.” And Polished Man is taking on the challenge of eradicating poverty in a unique way.
The campaign urges men to paint one fingernail in order to draw attention and raise awareness. The painted nail opens up opportunities for conversations in which the “polished man” can raise awareness of the dangers facing children in poverty and direct others to the Polished Man website, where they can make a donation. All of the funds raised support organizations such as the New York Center for Children and the Australian Childhood Foundation.
In addition to sparking conversations, the presence of a solitary painted nail on only one finger also holds a symbolic meaning. The nail represents the one in five children who are victims of physical or sexual violence before the age of 19, according to UNICEF. “It is important to acknowledge this is a global challenge,” Costello told The Huffington Post.
Costello also explained the reason why the Polished Man campaign is directed primarily at males. “While most men don’t perpetrate violence, 90 percent of sexual violence committed against children is perpetrated by men, and we all have a responsibility to help change that,” he said.
Now, men can easily contribute to an important social campaign by simply painting a nail. Polished Man managed to reach almost 60 million people and collected more than $1.5 million in 2017 alone. So next time you see a man with a painted nail, don’t be too quick to judge. Ask a question, and you might be surprised by the conversation that ensues.