Behind the Scenes With a Professional Hand Model
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
Sarah Siadat, Los Angeles
It’s been busy, but good! I did a shoot for Shutterfly last week. Target just hired me for this year’s holiday catalog. It’s so strange to see your hand — or any part of you — in a catalog or on television. I am a commercial hand model, and it’s interesting, to say the least.
Hand modeling is both an art and a business. It’s a lot of work, but the reward is big, anywhere between $500 and $2,000 per job. It’s not like acting. You can’t train and become an excellent hand model if your hands just don’t fit the bill. You need elegant-looking hands and strong nails. You can’t have a lot of veins or scarring. Your nail beds have to be a decent size and free of marks or white specks. There’s a beauty and elegance to certain hands.
When I was young, my mom always told me I had beautiful hands. I thought she was just being a mom, but she kept insisting. I gave hand modeling a shot and went to an open call. There were tons of people. I’ve gone to auditions where, when I signed in, I was No. 112. But with my skin tone — in the industry, I’m considered “ethnically ambiguous” — I filled a niche. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Since my first booking three years ago, it’s been really consistent — I work one to two jobs a month. Auditions usually consist of walking in and having photos taken of the front and the back of your hand. You’ll also be asked to do an activity: hold a cellphone, light a match, cut fruit, play with an iPad. What the market is looking for is usually the same thing: tech devices, iPhones, computers, touch screens, nail polish, food products. As a hand model, I have worked with brands like the Home Depot, OPI, Quicken Loans, McDonald’s and California Pizza Kitchen.
I’ve been on-set for as few as three hours and for as many as 12. Once, I had to hold my hands still for an hour and half, so they could take video of somebody giving me a manicure. It was tiring, physically. Sometimes they have rigs and boxes and you’re sitting on the floor. You’re doing all sorts of stuff to get yourself out of the way so they can get the perfect shot of your hand.
The biggest challenge is maintaining my hands, and feeling stressed out if I break a nail. I don’t like having something that might be out of my control, like getting scratched, hinder an upcoming job. I use cuticle oil, nail strengthener, moisturizers. I try not to wear nail polish all the time, to make sure my nails can breathe and grow and be healthy. I don’t ever pick at anything, like labels; if a jar or can is very difficult to open, I don’t try. I’ve definitely become much more aware than I ever was before. When I’m on-set and I meet people, they’re nervous to shake my hand, which I think is really funny.
Everyone keeps telling me diversity is so in, but I’ve always been this way. I’m Middle Eastern, Persian and Arab. I understand that advertising has different needs than TV and film storytelling in Hollywood. But the concept of having even just a hand that is not white or Black, is subliminal to the viewer when the commercial is only 15 or 30 seconds, that they might see themselves even in a hand. Thanks, Aziz Ansari, you’re helping us. But there are Arabs and Persians in this industry too — we don’t see enough of ourselves.