For Many Muslim Women, Nail Art Is So Much More Than A Trendy Design

Photo: Courtesy of SoH Salon.
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This story was originally published on March 27, 2017.
Something you’re sure to notice if you ever visit Dubai is that the women here command attention — whether they're veiled or not. It’s not uncommon to come across locals with overdrawn lips, bold, filled-in brows, and precise cat-eyes. Many pile their hair high into a hive; others let blue strands peek out from under their head covering — and that's just for a casual stroll at the mall. It's a city that takes the "go big or go home" motto to the extreme, from the dazzling buildings to the pricey hair and makeup routines. But the manicures? Those just might be the biggest masterpieces of all.
In Dubai, SoH is the women-only salon for those who want to experiment and have fun with their look. On the menu, you'll find "Snow White" pedicures, temporary tattoos, rainbow hair color services, and the most badass nail art around. And if you spend hours getting intricate designs on your nails, it follows that you want to post them to Instagram. (Otherwise, did you even really have a cool manicure?)
But in the UAE, many conservative clients (including those who practice Islam) feel uncomfortable posting photos of themselves online — even if they show their faces in public. “This is a culture where for some people, it might not necessarily be a social norm for you to showcase your face or beauty on social media," says SoH owner Sally Soheili. So she came up with a workaround: the "nelfie."
The "nelfie," or nail selfie, is exactly what it sounds like: a self-portrait of the client painted free-hand on nails. It's among the salon's most popular requests, along with a signature design called “Emirati Beauty,” which features an Arab woman with long lashes wearing a traditional metallic face covering, or burqa. Clients also get images of their significant others, babies, entire families, and favorite Snapchat filters (the flower crown one is big) painted on their nails in painstaking detail, which they then share with their followers.
“The idea came from having a cartoon version of yourself. Everybody wants to represent their persona some way," says Soheili. "Why Emirati women, and Arab women in general, prefer to have their faces painted on their nails more than other nationalities has something to do with the culture. [It's about being] able to depict or showcase your beauty on your nails when you don’t necessarily have the means of putting your face on your Instagram."
Click ahead to see 15 of the salon's most popular "nelfies."