Ice House

This Houston Woman Has the Longest Fingernails in the World

We asked world record holder Yani Williams what it's like to live with 19 (combined) feet of fingernails.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen October 30, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Yani Williams has been growing her nails for more than two decades.

Image: Marco Torres

Houstonian Ayanna “Yani” Williams, whose fingernail tips have been around since the Clinton administration, earned a spot in the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records for having the “longest nails on a pair of hands (female).” Officially measuring in at a combined 576 centimeters, or nearly 19 feet, her nails are both a work of art and a challenging lifestyle choice. We had to know more. 

How did you decide to start growing your nails?

Actually it was a man that convinced me to grow my nails. I never intended to let them get this long, but I always loved long nails because my mother had them—although they were nothing like this.

How long have you been growing them?

I stopped counting after 20 years. It has, I think, been 23 or 24.

Do they grow a lot slower when they’re this long?

They grow much faster actually. I think it’s the weight.

What’s the biggest misconception about your nails or your aesthetic?

That my nails are unclean. That is so irritating.

How do you take care of them?

I use antibacterial soap; I use bleach to keep them white; and they also have a thin layer of acrylic underneath to keep anything from getting under the nail. If I’m removing the nail polish I’ll add a hardener because they do crack in certain seasons. And then if anything gets underneath I take my drill, get it out, fill it in with acrylic and then buff it. If I’m doing paint or nail art, it can take up to five days.

What’s the biggest sacrifice you have made for your art?

I’ve sacrificed a lot. Probably I could be better in a financial situation if I didn’t have them. There’s a lot of things I don’t do.

What about doing everyday things like shopping and getting dressed?

It can become challenging a lot of time when I’m dressing—when I put my nails through a bra, I have to be careful that I don’t break them. Tying shoes, I don’t do that. My hair—I don’t call it dreadlocks because mine are maintained and dreadlocks sometimes aren’t, but I don’t comb my hair. And when I drive, I’ve already planned it in my head how I’m going to do it and exactly where to turn because my nails could get caught in the steering wheel.

You obviously have a big following on social media. How do you type?

On a smartphone I use a stylus to type or a pencil on the computer, but just with one hand.

Tell me about the women you’ve connected with online over your long nails, the Real Nail Qweenz —how close are you?

We all found each other on social media. I’m the one that likes to reach out to people like myself, see how their life is, living with long nails. It's now three years we’ve been together. We’re very close; we’re like sisters.

It sounds like social media has helped you find a community, but it’s also a double-edged sword, because you’ve got a lot of haters, too.

Millions of them! I can’t understand it. On social media I’m cyber-bullied—and not only me, but also others like me. I just want to make people aware of the issue. We have a choice to grow our nails, but kids getting bullied don’t always have a choice.

It’s serious—the way people talk about me, if I was weak, I’d dig a hole and jump in it. I just want to tell people to be yourself and don’t be afraid to be who you are. Just let people live their lives. I have people saying ‘Ew, I’d never want to eat with her.’ Did I invite you?

Now that you are the record holder, do you think you’ll keep growing them?

I’m single now—I was married for 22 years, so had a helpmate, and now it’s only me. If I can’t make a decent living like I would like to, I might have to cut them. That and my health would be the only reasons.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

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