NEWARK, NJ — When Muqeetah Rauf was just a little girl, a young man told her something she’d never forget.
“I used to bite my nails really bad, and he told me that my hands ‘looked like feet,'” Rauf says. “So from that day on, I never bit my nails again and decided to let them grow.”
Rauf’s story is just one of several poignant vignettes from a group known as the Newark Nail Goddesses. Together, its members trade stories and support as they proudly battle outdated stereotypes about beauty with their extraordinarily long fingernails.
Maria Ortiz, a nail stylist, said she decided to grow her nails long after seeing the happiness it brought some of her clients. For others, such as school director Janine Reed, the decision to grow her nails has roots in her upbringing.
“I had strict parents,” Reed said. “No lipstick, no makeup, no nail polish … just really plain Jane. So when I became an adult, I decided to start getting my nails done.”
Recently, several of the Newark Nail Goddesses gave a glimpse into some of the bullying — and joy — they’ve experienced because of their lifestyle choices in a documentary. (Watch the video below)
Here are some of the comments the group’s members have encountered:
“Nasty””Dirty and germy””Impractical””Gross”
Rauf said her nails are intriguing to some people but “disgusting” to others, some of whom make incorrect assumptions about her career because of them.
“I was in a grocery store and this young man was like, ‘What are you doing in here? I know you’re not cooking for somebody.'” she recalled. “And I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I have my own catering business.'”
“Most people don’t understand that, because we have long nails, we’re very mindful of this,” Rauf explained. “I wash my hands constantly.”
Debbie Warren, a caregiver at a senior center, said she faces prying questions about how she cleans and does other daily chores. Some people will joke about how they would never let her cook for them.
“I’m humble,” Warren said. “I don’t let it bother me too much. I just keep doing what I do. And nobody can judge me but God. I feel like they don’t know me just by looking at me. They don’t know who I am.”
“Judging someone you really don’t know just by looking at them, that’s not cool,” she said. “I love me, and that’s all that really counts.”
In the end, having super-long fingernails is less restrictive than you’d think, some of the group’s members say.
“The only thing I can’t do is tie a sneaker,” Warren joked.
“I learned how to do things and work around them,” agreed another woman. “I just have issues with small things, like using my ATM card. It draws a crowd … people stand around watching to see, ‘How is she going to get that card out of there?'”
See related article: 1st Mrs. New Jersey With ‘Locs’ Fights To Change Beauty Standards
‘A REAL SENSE OF JOY’
According to the documentary’s creator, Richard Brenton, he became fascinated with learning how a person could make it through their daily routines with such long fingernails.
Brenton, a Union resident who attended Rutgers University, said the project took an unexpected turn during a shooting session at a local salon, when he noticed how much the women enjoyed talking about their nails.
“There was a real sense of joy in the room,” Brenton recalled.
But there was a downside to the experience, too, he said.
“When I asked about negative feedback they get, and how they handled it, the whole project went sideways,” Brenton said. “I never thought people could have such a disparaging view or post such mean things on their Facebook [pages]. Especially after I had come to know these delightful and kind people.”
The goal of the project then evolved into an effort to combat the idea of body-shaming, which the group’s members were happy to educate him about, Brenton said.
Hopefully, the documentary will create some empathy in the hearts and minds of people who judge others based on their looks — including their fingernails, Brenton told Patch.
“I have to admit, it was a growth experience for me as well,” he said.
THE MENACE OF BULLIES: PATCH ADVOCACY REPORTING PROJECT
As part of a national reporting project, Patch has been looking at society’s roles and responsibilities in bullying.
Do you have a story to tell? Email us at email@example.com, or share your views in the comments.
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