Newswise — An April J. Crew catalog ad featuring a company executive and her young boy with his toenails painted bright pink has incensed many with its flouting of social conformity.

While the idea may have been unheard of 30 years ago, two Texas Tech University psychologists say men and boys painting their toenails and fingernails are more common today than many might think. They are available to speak on gender, gender-role behavior and sexuality.

Erin Hardin, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, teaches multiculturalism, gender identity and sexual identity. She said that based on research evidence, the child was not psychologically harmed in any way by having his toenails painted. She compared the toenail painting to the way children dress in a costume or play with toys typically reserved for other genders. This play does not determine or “mess up” a person’s gender or sexual identity. Hardin said people often confuse gender, gender-role behavior and sexual identity as the same thing when they are three separate aspects. Gender refers to the deep internal feeling of male or female that one has about himself or herself. Gender-role behavior refers to typical activities stereotypically performed by males or females and sexual orientation refers the gender or genders one finds emotionally, spiritually, physically and sexually attractive.

Christine Robitschek, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, studies intentional personal growth, vocational psychology and the multicultural elements related to those topics. She said it’s not uncommon now to find not only boys, but also grown men who identify as male and heterosexual painting fingernails and toenails. While 30 years ago, a boy with painted toenails might have been unheard-of, today’s society is getting comfortable with more fluid gender-role behaviors, and people are engaging in a wider variety of activities rather than assigning strict gender labels to these behaviors. How people behave in a gendered way is influenced by social standards, she said, and how a society addresses gender roles changes over time. She noted society’s changed standards on women wearing suits, girls playing with trucks in the mud or Renaissance men wearing wigs, lace and high-heeled shoes. Find Texas Tech news, experts and story ideas at and on Twitter @TexasTechMedia.