wp,am holding hand out with chipped black nails caption 'Trying the red nail theory as a chubby and not conventionally hot female' (l) woman speaking holding up red nails caption 'What is the red nail theory' (c) woman holding up red nails caption 'I have a fiance so this is strictly for research purposes Cuz I feel like its a lie' (r)

@navyapassi/TikTok @emmaavishort/TikTok

‘I weirdly think guys are attracted to red nails because it reminds them of their moms’: TikTokers are testing out the ‘red nail theory’

'Every time I have red nails, a guy comments on it.'


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Nov 17, 2022

The “red nail theory” is everywhere on makeup TikTok right now, positing two things: Men are especially attracted to women wearing red nail polish, and that attraction exists because men remember seeing their mothers and teachers wear red nail polish when they were children.

Like the conversation around whether men give bigger tips to waitresses and strippers who wear their hair in pigtails, this TikTok trend combines armchair psychoanalysis with women sharing their own experiences.

The red nail theory began to go TikTok-viral in late September and early October—although the idea has been around for a while, popularized by the TikToker @girlbosstown.

In a TikTok posted in January, she remarked on the fact that she always got a lot of male attention when she had red nails, saying, “I always thought red nails was like a grandma nail color, why the fuck is he liking red nails? And then it hit me. In the ’90s when we were growing up, women had red nails a lot, especially like our moms. I weirdly think guys are attracted to red nails because it reminds them of their moms when they were growing up and taking care of them.”

@girlbosstown Reply to @meganandliz @tinx @serenakerrigan ♬ original sound – GirlBossTown

This TikTok now has 1.2 million views, but it’s since been overshadowed by a wave of recent TikToks as more and more women began to test the theory this fall. The #rednailtheory tag is full of people posting about getting compliments and being asked out on more dates after getting a simple red manicure—and sharing the theory that it’s because men have mommy issues.

@navyapassi Replying to @Unknown_123 red nail theory explained 💅🏻 @GirlBossTown #rednailtheory #rednails ♬ original sound – Navya Passi
@melissevmartineau it’s not a joke anymore #rednailpolish #rednailtheory #rednailtheoryisreal ♬ original sound – melisse martineau

Meanwhile, others are taking a more experimental stance, trying out the theory to see if it actually works—and if it has a similar effect on women who don’t see themselves as conventionally attractive. Whatever the reason, it’s enough for the #rednailtheory hashtag to rack up 90 million views.


Science ❣️

♬ original sound – Emma Avital

However, the theory inevitably has some detractors. Like a lot of ideas that go viral on TikTok, the original source is far from scientific. It’s essentially just someone speculating about a random opinion, and then a bunch of other people decided that her theory sounded plausible.

It’s sparked some more critical responses like this post from a TikToker working toward a PhD in psychology. “People are citing that this makes sense because of Sigmund Freud,” she says derisively. “Number one, Freud sucks, so straight to jail. Number two, attraction is complex, and you’re not just attracted to people who remind you of your parents.”

“Number three, there is evidence that we do consider red to be an amorous color, and we tend to rate people wearing red as more attractive than people who aren’t wearing red. Number four, if you believe that wearing a certain color makes you more approachable and confident, you will act differently, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

@hoff.phd pls dont listen to anyone citing freud lmao #rednailtheory #rednails #sigmundfreud #psychologyfacts #psychology #bodyimage #fyp ♬ original sound – Aubrey Hoffer, M.A.

In other words, even if the red nail theory “works” in the sense that red manicures lead to more male attention, it doesn’t necessarily have a creepy Oedipal explanation. The good news is that even if the red nail theory is based on shaky ground, it’s pretty harmless by the stands of goofy TikTok psychoanalysis. In the end, all you’re actually doing is painting your nails.

The Daily Dot has reached out to @girlbosstown for comment via email.

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*First Published: Nov 17, 2022, 8:47 am CST