Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hand It to Me

Today the New York Times ran a story on anti-aging strategies for hands. Featured was Ellen Sirot, who has made a considerable career as a hand and foot model.

Sirot, whose hands are her livelihood, takes exceptional care of them. She wear gloves almost constantly, taking them off every hour to moisturize. She dips her nails in lemon juice to keep them white. To avoid those nasty disfiguring calluses, she rarely writes, and further protects her hands from bumps, bruises, and barnacles by never cooking, cleaning, or holding hands with her husband. And she wears absolutely no jewelry, of course.

To borrow from Jennifer Egan’s novel Look at Me, Ellen Sirot is an Extraordinary in a world of Ordinaries. (Her husband, who does EVERYTHING, including opening her car door, is pretty extraordinary too.)

Ellen Sirot’s hands are indeed beautiful, if one’s standards of beauty include white-and-pink nails, hands that are sans pesky veins, brown spots, and other general lumps or hairs.

But at what personal price comes this modeling success and beauty?

Granted, Sirot is a character, in the best sense of the word (watch her “Big Idea” interview on YouTube) and, as such, is separate from everyday mortals. She holds her gloved hands above her waist, which gives the impression that she’s about to break into a puppeteer’s routine. (Hands below the waist send more blood into the veins, thus accentuating them.)

She’s chosen her career and is spectacularly good at it. But I can’t help thinking that she’s missing out on the small joys of daily life, with all this fussing over preserving her beautiful hands.

My hands, which probably betray my age (43), show evidence of a life well lived. There’s a small burn scar on one hand from an encounter with a Thanksgiving turkey and an oven; there is the well-formed callus from having written hundreds of thousands of words with my pen; there’s the muscle memory of having pricked my fingers dozens of times as I embroidered and quilted. There’s even the hint of a tan, from my one of many summers spent on the beach.

With the emphasis on pure beauty for hand models, I’m reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Birth-Mark,” in which a scientist is so desperate to satisfy his bride’s potential for complete beauty (she has a small red birthmark on her cheek) that he has the mark chemically removed, accidentally taking her life in the process. (What does that say about the most beautiful women?)

I’d never want the burden of beauty to be so great that I gave up on actually living. I’d miss wearing my wedding band (though never together with my engagement ring!); I’d miss helping my nine-year-old assemble her breakfast slide for her Invention Convention; I’d miss holding my six-year-old’s hands in the water while she kicks; I’d miss letting my three-year-old grip my finger as tightly as he wants as we begin his first day of school..

Ellen Sirot is now developing a line of skin care for hands to help those of us who haven’t had the luxury of caring for our hands all these years. That’s fine. I might even give it a try.

But I also feel for her. As the NYT notes, Sirot has been the advertising world’s hands of “countless” women, including Sarah Jessica Parker and Cheryl Tiegs. How I wish she could be the hands of her own self.


Emily said...

this reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld when george got a job as a hand model only to burn his hand so badly he was out of work.

WendyB said...

I really don't care much about how my hands look, I must say. I'm more concerned about the rings on them (seven, yesterday).

Kelly said...

To me, that's just sad. I know it's her career, but most people get to take a break from their careers in the evenings, on weekends, and on vacations. I can't imagine having a job that would require me to keep from holding my (theoretical) husband's hand at any time of the day or night. That right there would be enough reason for me to find a new line of work.

miss cavendish said...

Emily--Oh yes! I saw a Sunday Morning interview with Ellen Sirot and that George clip was shown. It was terrible and hilarious!

WendyB--I think we need to get you some more fingers.

Kelly--I agree. She's mising so much!

miss cavendish said...

Ummm--that was "missing," of course.

K.Line said...

Great post, Miss C. On the one hand (ha) I'm vain about my hands, on the other, they are really "lived in" - with scars, imperfections, moles and (lately) some veins popping up! But it doesn't bother me because they've facilitated so many fun, beautiful and necessary things.

enc said...

Like Emily, I remember that Seinfeld episode where George became a hand model, and everything in life became a chore, and he wore oven mitts all the time.

If I couldn't squeeze my step-daughter's cheeks, or run my fingers through Mr.OM's hair, or type, or touch fabric and leather, I would never be happy. I couldn't do it.

Life is too short.

Iheartfashion said...

This article made me kind of sad too...not holding hands?!

Imelda Matt said...

Hands some a close second to good teeth as my one -and-only-quirk. So this was such a heaven read. SJP and Madonna both have the most gruesome looking hands, but even I find the idea of holding ones hands above ones waist (all the time) to John Waters-esque. That said I'm off to check her youtube videos.

Mary-Laure said...

How could I miss this article?
There's only 1 secret fr hands: SUNSCREEN.

Songy said...

Why bother living I'd say. My friends used to tell me that I had hands of a hand model (wondered if such profession existed back then). 10 years on I doubt it now. cooking and cleaning did damage them a bit.
Although I try to take care of my hands it's not possible not to do things that one requires to do as part of living. So be it.. gotta a live a little.

I believe that Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Hand Cream is the best around.

never knew about lemon juice for white nails. interesting.

Ah one thing I do hate is writing. No handwriting for me, thanks.. I'm so glad that you have keyboards!