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.