Nail Artist Tanya Barlow On How Nails Can Encourage Conversation

The talented creative has a passion for nails and talks to beauty editor Ashleigh Cometti making your manicure your megaphone


Tanya says the inspiration for these fat positive nail designs came from a design she spotted on Instagram. Photo / Babiche Martens

Lindsay Lohan appearing in court with “f*ck you” painted on her middle fingernail.

Dolly Parton rubbing her acrylic nails together during the intro to 9 To 5. 

Lizzo’s over-the-top nail art designs and Cardi-B's sculptural talons.  

These are all iconic nail art moments that tiny canvas enthusiast and hair, make-up and nail artist  Tanya Barlow says inspire her craft.  

Tanya says that while nail art as a form of personal expression is not new, it’s certainly gaining momentum. I think lately people are craving a small sense of control or achievable luxury, almost like getting a tattoo that only lasts 3-4 weeks,” she says.  

"There's a long history of self-expression in nail art, and nail trends that we see today can be traced back to Black culture, most notably Florence Griffith-Joyner (aka Flo-Jo), an American track and field athlete- (the fastest woman of all time!) was known to sport incredibly long and bedazzled talons with bold designs, the likes of which are popular today, which were mocked and shamed by the media back in the 80s."

Slogans and statements continue to redefine the world of nail art as we know it. Photo / Babiche Martens

With so many iconic nail moments in pop-culture history, there's plenty of history from those that came before to draw inspiration from when it comes to statement-making nails.

READ: Expert Eye: Tanya Barlow's Nail Advice 

"There are so many iconic nail-art moments to choose from! A personal favourite is Lindsay Lohan's "f*ck you" nails, painted incredibly small, as a tiny form of protest while in court. Dolly Parton rubbing her acrylic nails together inspiring the intro to 9-5. Lizzo always has incredible nails and travels with a personal nail artist (hoping this will be me one day!), and Cardi B has always had legendary nails."

Florence Griffith (Joyner) aka Flo Jo's iconic red nails. Photo / Getty Images

And speaking of well-known faces, one daring nail request took fan art to a new level.

"I guess when it comes to the most daring design a nail client has requested, the most memorable would probably be being asked to paint a portrait of actor Cillian Murphy, purely because it was quite difficult and extremely specific, which is kind of my favourite nail art request."

READ: Opinion: Is It Okay to Talk About Fashion & Politics?

Ahead of the cannabis referendum, Tanya also created a “vote yes” design for a client, who requested a glittery green nail featuring swirling clouds, mini joints, green ticks and the Green party logo. 

It’s this form of nail art that takes activism to the next level. 

Lindsay Lohan's subtle statement in court in 2010 at the hight of the 'Bling Ring' era. Photo / Getty Images

“I had already painted a set of nails with these fat body outlines and wanted to revisit them – they’re inspired by a tattoo artist @ruffenough on Instagram,” she says.   

I wanted to paint bodies and bellies and boobs that looked like mine, saggy and soft and full of abundance, with the hopes that someone might see them and think of their own bodies with kindness and compassion.”

"The two designs go hand in hand (hehe get it?), I choose to believe that fat is not a bad word if you decide it isn't- you have every right to own it, shake off the negative connotations and take your power back. It's a descriptor, and it has neither good or bad attributes. I'll say it again- ALL bodies are good bodies."

Photographer / Babiche Martens. Nail artist / Tanya Barlow (@hellotanya). Model / Katherine Lowe from Super. Glass banana courtesy of Devon Made Glass.

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