It's Not All In The Wrists

hand models
hand models, advertising

We journey now to a truly unique realm in the universe of high fashion and advertising. Susan Koeppen of The Early Show introduces us to some models who work with their hands and ONLY their hands.

Fashion runways are filled with models who've won the genetic lottery - that rarified beauty prized by magazine editors and advertisers. But it turns out, no one's got it all, not even a beautiful actress like Sarah Jessica Parker.

In this commercial, you can see Sarah Jessica, but not her hand. The hand you see belongs to one of the most successful hand models in the country, Ellen Sirot.

She's a supermodel of hands, or as she puts it, "I'm the 'it' of digits."

For the past 15 years, Sirot's hands have been the queen of the close up - sometimes a hand-double for celebrities, but mostly playing best supporting actress to an endless array of products.

"I'm not a hand that will take your attention away from something else," she said. "I'm just a hand that will fit in. I'm the hand next door."

Well, advertising's idea of the hand next door. Not every hand looks as perfect as hers.

"They are really just the perfect, neutral-toned hands," she explained. "The skin tone of most people is not something that you'd wanna see up close at all. There's freckles, there's age spots, capillaries."

Sirot can make anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars per hour - not typical remuneration for "working with your hands."

Like Betty Grable, who once took out a million dollar policy on her legs, Sirot has hand insurance. But the policy doesn't cover the mundane, like paper cuts.

"That's really my biggest risk, so it forces me to be obsessively careful about my hands."

Really careful. To maintain perfection, Sirot's life is filled with no's.

"So for me, that means no cooking, no cleaning, no taking out the garbage, no opening cans, no opening windows, no opening doors, no gardening, no sports, you know? No, no, no, no, a million no's."

She wears gloves every day. ("These hands have not seen the light of day for, I'd say, 15 years," she admits.)

And she has a multitude of gloves - by her count, nearly 500 pairs.

"Probably have like 300 pairs of purple," she said. "I'm on purple this year."

Sirot's home is a world where her daughter Lona buckles her shoes and her husband Peter does all the chores, without complaint.

"What was it like to date her in the very beginning?" Koeppen asked.

"A little peculiar," Peter laughed. "But she was beautiful and I was in love, so …"

Sirot admits that her obsession to protect her extremities may be a little bit "out there."

"But it works for me. I love this, I feel passionate about it."

Being a successful hand model means more than having pretty hands. Today Sirot's working on a cookbook. She holds long poses … then she drains (the blood out of her hands). "It's over and drain. Over and drain," she said.

Photographer Peter Pioppo says she's a performer.

"It's kind of hard to tell a hand to be more emotional," he said. "But she somehow has figured that out - how to make a hand a little prettier, a little happier, a little more aggressive."

Every hand supermodel has a niche, and Sirot is known in the industry for her perfect "mommy hands." For glamour, advertisers turn to Cristina Ambers, who has "beauty hands."

"So I do mostly cosmetics and jewelry," she said.

While Sirot serves dinner, Ambers wears diamonds. In the subtle world of close up photography, Christina's God-given gift is a broad nail bed - perfect for nail polish.

"When you're doing like, nail art-type stuff, you need kind of a big canvas, so with the big nails, it kind of helps," she laughs.

And while Sirot makes her sole living off her hands, Ambers' body of work is more encompassing: She does feet and legs, and is expanding into eyes and lips, too.

There are models for practically every body part, each with their own rigorous requirements. But the money's in hands.

On this day, it's a shoot for Target. Ambers is careful with her hands - but she's nothing like Sirot. She even has a cactus collection.