6 Insane Realities Of Life As A Professional Hand Model
Hand modeling -- or "parts modeling," if you want to call it by its proper, vaguely disturbing name -- is a job you never stop to think about. But, it's all around you: Everything you've ever bought, from your smartphone to your sandwich, was sold to you by somebody using a hand model. So, to find out more, we talked to models Doreen Gordon, Susan Schell, and Adele Uddo, who told us about "the only respectable way to make a living from one hand job to the next."
There Are Hand Supermodels
It's not unheard of for a parts model to make at least $75 grand a year because there are some big budgets behind those perfume ads you flip past when you're perusing a 5-year-old magazine in a waiting room. But, before you give your boss the carefully manicured finger and quit your day job, you should know that there are reasons it's a small industry. Each hand model can handle a lot of work, and advertisers are picky about the hands they use. Susan explained what makes a hand attractive, so give yours a look and adjust your self-esteem accordingly.
"Typically for commercials, you want a hand that isn't distracting. Nothing that would make it more notable than the product. They have a term called 'Mommy hands,' where it just looks like the classic mother doing dishes. But then [for high-end products], it's usually more about looking glamorous. They want a longer nail and fancier poses. In general, you need to have long, straight fingers. Small knuckles. Healthy nail beds, healthy nails. Usually, we have pretty long nail beds as well. Long fingernails in general."
Sometimes, their nails are the only healthy part of the picture.
Size matters, too. Doreen only models children's toys (most of those hands in ads you see during your My Little Pony marathons belong to grown women) because her hands are sufficiently dainty. "If I were to model an engagement ring, my hand would look childlike. I don't know how many viewers would pay attention to that, but, when you're making a commercial, they pay a lot of attention."
Adele only became a parts model because, at 5 feet 7 inches, she was considered too short to be a regular model -- and really, what's the point of being a model unless you can dunk on the photographer? Though her decision was arguably more lucrative -- hand models have much longer careers -- the early audition process was weird. "I went to a casting for [a nail polish ad]. I sensed a different reaction than what I would usually get at casting ... people were called from cubicles, and, suddenly, the whole board room was staring at my hands and passing me around."
Actually learning how to use the nail polish came later.
A typical hand audition involves lots of pictures and pretending to, say, spoon yogurt without suddenly overthinking every aspect of that process. Doreen, meanwhile, had to beat out actual kids so she could get a job pretending to be a kid, because actual kids usually don't have the patience to do long shoots or have the bills to stay motivated:
"They had a little desk. There was a doll and this little toy dog. The director wasn't in the room, so I just hear this voice floating over Skype saying, 'OK, Doreen, I want you to grab the dog and have it walk over to the doll and jump on her shoulder.' So, I do that, and he says, 'Great! Now, I want it cuter!' So, you bounce it a little more on the table. You're making it bounce back and forth so it looks like it's walking all cute."
Only those with seniority learn how to make them look like they're pooping.
There are certainly worse ways to make a living with your hands, but not many stranger.
Their Hands Double For Celebrities
If, like us, you have www.meganfoxthumbs.com set as your homepage, you know that Ms. Fox has brachydactyly type D, which is the fancy way of saying that her thumbs are stubby. But, as Doreen explains, you never see them:
"Even for movies, hand models will do the close-up shots where someone's pressing a button or whatever. Megan Fox has weird-looking thumbs, so they hired a hand model for the scenes where she's opening doors."
"What audience could dare to love her!?"
That's true of pretty much every actor and actress, stubby thumbs or not. Stars being paid millions of dollars can have their time used more effectively elsewhere, so lots of shots that only feature a limb are done by a stand-in. The same is also true for commercial shoots, where Adele has doubled for lots of celebrities.
"Penelope Cruz, Courtney Cox, Katy Perry, Heidi Klum, Eva Mendes, and a lot more. Sometimes I can't divulge on certain campaigns. They don't want me saying, 'Hey, that's my hand!' It's not that my hands are better than a celebrity's; it's that Penelope has better things to do than hang out for a shot."
The less time you spend touching your own face, the more time you have to film G-Force.
So, if you start to look more closely, you'll realize that a bunch of celebrities all have the same hand -- like they're being issued a special model who the rest of us don't have access to. No one's going to recognize a hand, so models can be everyone and do everything. In fact, you've probably seen the same dozen hands in countless commercials and never realized. We shall explain ...
Hand Modeling Gets Extremely Strange
At first, it seems there are only so many subjects you would need a hand model for: cosmetics, electronics, high-end Ring Pops, etc. But, it can get much weirder, as demonstrated by the photos Adele took for an article about foods that supposedly increase the libido:
When food goes bad -- really, really, bad.
Take a gander at those food genitals. Really let the fact that somebody had to carefully sculpt a vagina out of salmon sink in, and then consider being asked to finger that fish cooch on camera without batting an eye. Now, let Susan explain that it can get even inexplicably stranger ...
"One time, I had to pretend to chop up a real human placenta. So, that was a thing. I was just supposed to be happily chopping. It's a lot of weird, false actions. You're faking movements."
And because of the angles involved, nothing is ever natural. "A lot of times when you're posing your hands, the most flattering angle isn't what you would do in real life. If you're trying to pose a fancy bag, and it's heavy, and your body needs to be hidden from the shot, it can be awkward. You have to contort yourself to get out of the frame."
Doreen has ran into the same problem. People assume it's her job to stand around and hold stuff all day, but, sometimes, you really have to contort yourself to get into position. "Usually, I'm just sitting under a table with my hand up in the air holding a toy, and sometimes that takes like 45 minutes of me sitting and holding one hand up in the air. It can be a bit of a workout, actually. I've left sets with my arms and fingers hurting."
Two-hundred takes later, her hand will forever look like she's about to rob a 7-Eleven.
Adele gets the added bonus of meeting all sorts of celebrities and then having to crouch behind them for hours. The end product may look like Hugh Jackman is having a sexy hand draped over him like he's the most attractive man on the planet ...
... but, it's hard to feel graceful when you're playing a game of Twister with a Wolverine mat:
"It's always a bit strange when I'm doubling for [a celebrity], because I'm asked to get in contorted positions all up in someone's armpits or behind them, or am barely able to see while I'm trying to make 'natural' moves around their face and feel as graceful as possible. Sometimes, I'm in dubious positions between the director of photography's legs. It's a real crunched environment. Sometimes, I can't see where my hand is going while I'm pouring a glass of orange juice."
Try pouring OJ, or doing anything else "naturally," when you're positioned like this:
Can you claim worker comp on finger pruning?
Finally, here's Doreen's "deranged babushka" look, which kept her dry during a shoot for The Little Mermaid toys that had her in and around tubs of water:
Ariel took one look at this getup and no longer wants to be a part of our world.
Yes, sometimes, modeling has a splash zone.
Hand Modeling Is Much More Complicated Than It Seems
It's easy to overthink even the simplest of movements when you're supposed to do it gracefully in front of a bunch of people whose time and money you'll waste if you mess up. Go ahead and pick up one of the toys we know you have on your desk and think about whether you're handling it boyishly enough, like Doreen has to.
"I do boy's toys as well. If I have to push a button, I tend to do it quite delicately, in a feminine way, and I've had the director say, 'Doreen, I want you to channel your inner boy.' I'm like, 'OK, I can do that,' and I press the button a little more aggressively, I guess. They cheer when you do well, and I'm like, 'I just pressed a button.'"
It isn't fun and games until somebody's toy gets a concussion.
Susan explained why it's harder to do the everyday than you would think. How many of you crack eggs flawlessly and delicately like they do in commercials? "You're kind of overthinking and overanalyzing it. Suddenly, all of your movements become very isolated, which is strange. When I first started, I definitely would overthink things and get very nervous. And, of course, if your hands are shaking, that's no good either."
On the plus side, those shitty takes guarantee them a second career as stupid people in infomercials.
Ever experienced that bitter childhood disappointment when you got a toy that looked amazing in the commercial but gave you trouble when you tried to replicate those cool moves? That's because people such as Doreen spent time mastering all the intricacies of those toys that your parents regretted buying you 20 minutes after you opened it: "I've struggled to make the features of new toys work, and, sometimes, the crew has to make last-minute fixes. Commercials have to make it look like these new features work perfectly."
Toys, ironically, are serious business. Doreen has had to sign oodles of NDAs, lest she spoil the latest Disney princess before her big debut. "We shot Frozen just before the movie came out, I remember having no idea what it was. I just thought, 'Oh, new princess, I guess,' and then I saw the movie, and I'm like, 'Oh my God, I did the toy for that!' That's actually what I tell people to impress them. There's another recent toy that I'm not allowed to talk about. There's all this secrecy."
Unlike Elsa, she would rather not be let go.
And, much like how a fast-food burger looks like an edible orgasm in a commercial but a sad lump of regret in reality, every toy is poked and prodded into perfection:
"They have the main doll; they call that the hero. And then, they have another doll you can practice with. If I drop [the hero], there's a big gasp from everyone. Hours of work go into making it look good. There's a prop person with a little kit of hairbrushes and glue and tape. They'll cut stray hairs from the doll's head, stick the hair together so there's no holes ... there's all these little details you don't think about."
As Adele explains, every product goes through that process. "There's some prop stylist with her tweezers putting the last raisin on a bowl of cereal. There's someone with a tube making artificial smoke come out of the chicken."
You can't even trust nature. Susan did a shoot featuring melting ice cream, but a food stylist had to step in to make the natural process look better on camera.
The sun was later fired for its lazy, uninspired performance.
Factor in all those food wranglers, photographers, celebrities, and their entourage, and shoots can get massive -- Adele did one with Patrick Dempsey that had a crew of 102. That's a lot of people whose time you're wasting if your overcaffeinated hands accidentally pull out a bunch of Dempsey's hair.
Even Hand Models Get The Photoshop Treatment
Hand models obviously treat their hands well, but our sources made it clear that they're not Zoolander-esque divas. Susan explained that her care regimen isn't much more extensive than the average woman's:
"I think the common misconception is that we walk around with gloves on all day and can't touch anything and don't let our hands see the sunlight. We worry about some things, but it's not like a huge, life-altering thing."
Although, it's a perfect built-in excuse for when people ask if you can help them move.
Mostly, it's just an excuse to make your partner do the dishes for you. Doreen did take one weird precaution, though. "I was a hostess and had to bus tables occasionally. I wore blue latex gloves that the kitchen staff gave me. All my coworkers were looking at me like I was crazy. I'm taking plates from customers in these bright blue gloves, and they're looking at me like, 'What the fuck is she doing?'"
If disaster strikes, Adele found one high-tech solution: "A couple of days before [a job], my nail flew off. I called a celebrity manicurist. They did some amazing operation with a teabag and some glue and re-attached the nail. The other manicurist at the job didn't even notice. She used the paper from the teabag as artificial skin to hold the nail together -- it was really impressive."
So, add teabagging to the list of things it's perfectly OK to do if you're a hand model.
Hand maintenance used to be a much larger problem, but now that Photoshop is as common in the modeling industry as free-range quinoa, it's almost a non-issue. And unlike all the controversy that comes with manipulating body weight and appearance, there's no anti-hand manipulation movement. Susan explains:
"A lot of pictures are heavily, heavily Photoshopped. A lot of times, we don't have any knuckle wrinkles; every contour is smoothed and glazed over. If you start looking closely at ads, they tend to wipe away every little line. It's funny that they even use hand models in the first place, because it tends to look fake once you start thinking about it. They do the same with faces, and we're all very aware of that, but it's kind of funny that we're putting these impossible standards on hands, too. I guess it's just not as sensitive; you don't worry about your hands in your day-to-day life."
Susan's right -- once you look, it's obvious. Here's what we're going to assume is Adele's middle finger before:
Hideous, right? Well, here it is with pretty much every line wiped away:
Photoshop is used so extensively that Adele, who astute readers will have noticed is white, almost doubled for Beyonce. Adele ended up not being needed, but editing someone's skin tone is as easy as editing out all those bongs before you show your parents pictures of your new apartment.
Hand Models Are Everywhere
You may have never thought of hand models before today, but Susan told us you're now going to be seeing them pretty much wherever you look:
"Once you start thinking about it and looking around, you see them everywhere. I find myself watching television, and, in every commercial that pops on, there's a hand model. It can be as specialized as a hand model with hairy arms. I live in New York, so a lot of subway signage has hand models. A lawyer advertising divorce services had hand models."
Newly single, very pissed-off hand models.
That Pepsi you bought because it looked refreshing? Hand model. That cheap microwave you bought at Walmart, fully intending to cook nothing but Hot Pockets in it? Hand model. That 18.5-inch horse dildo you've been thinking about pulling the trigger on? Hand model. You get the idea -- pretty much everything you've ever bought has been sold with a hand model at some point.
Without them, the only way you would know how to handle that thing would be to work behind the scenes at Seabiscuit.
A couple hand models end up famous or, at least, people of interest. Apple fans are oddly obsessed with the hands that model Apple products, and the woman who held the other kind of apple on the cover of the first Twilight novel does the convention circuit to sign autographs and pose with fans.
Sadly, the apple died in a motorcycle accident shortly after the shoot.
But, for the most part, they're just normal people you never think of, yet see absolutely everywhere. Adele talked about how it's surreal to walk out into the world and see your hand plastered on a massive billboard. It's just one of those jobs that quietly influences your life on a daily basis, even if you've never given it more than an offhand thought.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Insane Realities Behind The Scenes Of A Weight Loss Ad and We're All On Speed: 6 Insane Reasons Pro Gamers Retire At 26.
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