Model, musician, nail artist, and founder of photographic project Boys in Polish, Jess Young on the meaning of beauty, Mulan and her mum
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“In secondary school, there was a no nail polish rule. I was a goody two shoes but there was no way I was going to school without polish,” nail artist Jess Young says. “I always wore a sheer pink nail polish and since then I was known as ‘the nail girl’ through my school years.”
London-based Jess’s passion for polish began when she was ten years old. “I would go into nail salons with my mum and then drag her to the nail supply afterwards.” Her hobby grew into a career when Young began working at cult nail salon WAH Nails, and now, at 20-years-old, she is taking her interest even further with her Boys in Polish project – a rapidly growing Instagram page which captures images of men (taken by Jess herself) with their nails painted in an attempt to break the mould and allow guys the same avenues of expression as girls, when it comes to their nails. “I want to challenge the stigma associated with boys wearing polish and what we define as masculinity,” Jess says. “We need to teach the next generation to steer away from conforming to gender normalities, because beauty is freedom of expression, and unfortunately not that easy for men to embrace at the moment.”
Aside from being a nail artist, Jess is also a model and musician. Last year, she was invited to star in the ‘Champions of Soho’ campaign for the Champion flagship store: “It felt amazing to be recognised as part of the community I consider as my second home, as well as being promoted as a nail artist.” As for the future, she's currently working on her music, developing Boys in Polish and is taking steps to open her own space as a nail artist.
Why do you do what you do?
I have always enjoyed communicating through illustration and visual aesthetics, but being a nail artist allows me to embrace this whilst building connections with people. Meeting new people is something I really value because knowledge makes me feel rich more than anything, and knowing that I am making someone else feel good or better by doing their nails, is a nice feeling. Music is more of an emotional outlet for me when I find it difficult to talk to people about how I feel, almost like self-therapy. Recently I have realised that words are so powerful. When you combine them with a melody, it's a whole other sensation, and that's why I love to make music.
Which fictional character do you most relate to and why?
My friends compare me to Mulan, I guess because she’s the only Chinese Disney princess, but Mulan is one of my favourite Disney movies and it holds a special place in my heart. She’s brave, modest and fights against patriarchy, which I 100% relate to.
Who is your beauty icon?
My beauty icon is my mum because she is the person I admire the most.
What does beauty mean to you?
For me, beauty comes from within. If you’re a horrible person full of hate, it comes up on the surface and it begins to seep through your skin. You start to radiate negative energy and it’s ugly. Beauty comes from happiness and gratitude, first and foremost, and then everything else falls into place once you have realised that. It’s really not all about the clothes you wear and the people you hang out with, and how sick your Instagram is. Unfortunately, too many people are too engrossed in their phone screens and virtual lives rather than appreciating the beauty that already surrounds them.
When do you feel most beautiful?
After I’ve written a good song, done a good set of nails, or after a yoga or dance class because achievement gives me confidence. A morning shower also energizes me and gives me a fresh start to the day.
What beauty product would you take with you to the moon? Why?
My Glossier lip balm. I was going to say my eyebrow pencil but I can live without eyebrows, not chapped lips.
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