Future Tense

Scientist Hijacks Seventeen Magazine’s #ManicureMonday

Biologist and blogger Cristy Gelling tweeted, “My fingernails under UV lamp after handling rocks rich in willemite/calcite #ManicureMonday”

Cristy Gelling/Twitter

At the beginning of each week, Seventeen magazine encourages women and girls to tweet pictures of their done-up fingernails under #ManicureMonday. But if you searched the hashtag yesterday in hopes of finding some bedazzled inspiration, you were in for quite a surprise. Seemingly all at once, scientists hijacked #ManicureMonday with their own images of fingernails interacting with ghost crabs, keyboards, shark bait, and coyote scat.

For most scientists, I imagine tweets with the term #ManicureMonday stood out like an accent nail. (What caught my attention was when everybody’s favorite shark-guy, David Shiffman, started using the tag.) As more and more people contributed images and retweeted, the movement picked up momentum until even the National Science Foundation hopped aboard the manicure-wagon with a tweet about locusts—though one wonders if they understood the joke, since the tweet did not contain an image of fingers.

Hope Jahren is the scientist who single-handedly orchestrated the coup. Jahren works as an isotope geochemist and laboratory scientist studying photosynthesis at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She got the idea a week ago when autocomplete suggested she tweet something under the #ManicureMonday tag. Once she figured out what the French tip that was, she hatched a plan to hijack the hashtag.

Seventeen magazine has 700,000 followers,” said Jahren, “and it’s my dream they’ll retweet one of these images to show their followers, presumably a lot of girls, that it’s about what their hands do—not about how they look.”

When her academic colleagues asked her why she wastes her time tweeting, Jahren responds by saying it’s better than wasting her time writing publications nobody will ever read. If you haven’t noticed yet, Jahren’s got some major cut to her jib.

Of course, not everyone was pleased with the message sent by all those fingers in the muck. Jahren explained, “Some women found it offensive. They said we were somehow pushing yet another image of what they should be onto a place they had claimed for their art.” Another criticism suggested that encouraging women to post pictures with un-manicured hands was the equivalent of femme-shaming. (Seventeen magazine did not immediately respond to comment on their take of the whole thing.)

And while I agree, it’s important not to shame women who choose to get manicures or read magazines like Seventeen, I also think the heart of the #ManicureMonday takeover was in the right place. Young women should be exposed to all kinds of things, from fashion and nail art to road-kill fox analysis and aphid counting. Images convey powerful messages and maybe one browsing tween will suddenly develop an interest in salamanders or telescopes because of that one interesting-looking tweet. (I know, the “If just one …” argument is a cliché in these kinds of stories, but that doesn’t make it any less true.)

For Jahren’s part, she’s not sure whether or how the movement will continue. As you’d expect with any Internet discussion that even rhymes with “women,” trolls have started to march, and Jahren worries about picking fights with people who have nothing to lose. However, she has intimated that if the supporters of #ManicureMonday are willing, there are certainly bigger fish to fry.