Laurie Toby Edison

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Twilight: My Hands Are Me

Debbie says:

Most people (or at least most U.S. readers) can probably recognize the cover of Twilight, the first book in Stephenie Meyer’s runaway success vampire series.

cover of Twilight: two arms and hands from the elbows down, holding a bright red apple. Photo on a black background

I have to say I never gave the cover a second thought, until I saw this article. It turns out that Kimbra Hickey was the hand model for the book, and she’s feeling underappreciated.

Hickey now stops anyone she sees reading the book to inform them of her contribution.

“I see people reading it on the subway, and I say, ‘Those are my hands! I’m a hand model!’ ” she explained. “I’m sure they think I’m crazy — a crazy lady on the subway.”

a picture of Kimbra Hickey holding an apple in the same position as the book cover, with an inset of the book cover to compare

I took a little while (and some conversation with Laurie) to sort out how I feel about this. On the one hand (as it were!), if she stopped me on the subway I might have a little of that “crazy lady” reaction. Everybody wants to be famous for 15 minutes, right? On the other hand, she was chosen out of a wide variety of hand models and those are her hands. As Laurie said, no one would think she was crazy if her face was on the cover and she wanted recognition.

We are our bodies. Because most of us come from Western/Greek/Christian traditions that work tirelessly to separate the mind/personality/self from the body, that can be hard to grasp and remember. Speaking for myself, I feel both possessive and protective of my body. I like feeling proud of it. I sometimes feel like it’s my “fault” when my body doesn’t work the way I or other people expect it to. And if my hands were part of the unpredictable, imponderable combination of factors that made a book into a best-seller, I would feel proud and proprietary. I would want people to know.

It’s so alien to think of giving real credit to hand (or foot or torso or butt) models — sometimes they get a line mentioning their name somewhere, but that’s the maximum I’ve ever seen. But when I stop to think for a second, there’s absolutely no reason that they couldn’t have put a little inset picture of Hickey’s face somewhere on the jacket flap or the back cover, just to acknowledge that they selected those hands, and the hands are attached to a real person. It’s just another small way that we disembody people (usually women).

She’s not crazy at all. She’s just asking for an acknowledgment of the truth–she is her hands and her hands are her. So if her hands are famous, why shouldn’t she get some of the limelight?

Thanks to Alan Bostick for the pointer.

9 Responses to “Twilight: My Hands Are Me”

  1. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    I was reading The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture It’s quite an interesting book. I like knowing that there are people trying to figure out whether the development of the hand drove the development of the brain, or the other way around, and exactly why chimpanzees can’t make as good use of their hands as people do. (Less ability to rotate at the pelvis means less ability to throw. Having a grip that perpendicular to the arm rather than at a slight angle to the arm means less ability to strike with a stick.)

    And then I got to the bit about showing movies about hand injuries to craftspeople. I forget how they reacted, but it was something pretty strong, like throwing up or fainting. I didn’t do anything that drastic, but I haven’t opened the book up again even though I keep meaning to.

  2. Paul Novitski Says:

    While I’m sympathetic with Hickey’s desire for recognition — wouldn’t it be great if everyone who contributed to a book got credited, like in those miles-long Star Wars rolling credits? — it would seem that the industry standard is that the models who appear on book covers aren’t credited on the jacket — and that includes models whose faces or whole bodies appear — while the artist or photographer often gets a byline.

    Personally I love to see detailed colophons and this is the sort of detail that could appear there, although one must wonder wryly how far it should extend. To the make-up artist? The lighting technician? The apple purveyor? The printing press operators? I really don’t mean that as dismissive. In this digital age, fully-detailed credits are not only possible but potentially important to everyone so credited.

    I think the splash of reality here is that Kimbra Hickey didn’t really contribute to the content of the book her hands decorate. As widely-seen as her hands may be, the cover is one aspect of a book that the author rarely has any control over whatsoever. Who on earth would give a whit whose hands appeared in the cover photo? Surely not any of the readers, save a few. The answer is: people who hire hand models. Lacking credits on the book jacket, they can find out with one or two phone calls who the model was, and they will also be amply informed by Ms. Hickey’s portfolio as it makes the rounds.

    Speaking of credits, what I want to know is who was Stephanie Meyer’s copy editor? Now there is a person who should seek another line of work.

  3. Lynne Murray Says:

    I still don’t know how to respond here partly because I know how images on book covers are vital to the way the book is received and yet vastly underappreciated–an art form with only a very marginal following.

    But Nancy, your comment about the power of images of injury reminded me of a book I read over 35 years ago that had photos in a section on injuries some mental patients inflict on themselves I still wince to recall. One photo so distressed me that I paper-clipped the pages together until I could get it back to the library so I would not accidentally see it again.

    Images have power, words have power.

  4. Adrian Says:

    From the subject line, I was expecting a very different kind of post. I’ll try to comment on the post I expected (as Nancy and Lynne did), but it will probably take me a while. It’s emotionally difficult, on top of my usual typing difficulties.

    Now I want to comment on the post you actually made. If the book cover had used a photograph of a woman’s face, not her hands, I think I would have a problem with the model complaining that she wasn’t getting enough public recognition. Saying “that’s my face on the cover, you should know my name,” would distract from the illusion that it’s the character’s face. It bothers me when people blur the boundaries between character and actor (as they increasingly do).

    It’s not clear if that cover design is meant to be a picture of Bella’s hands, or something more abstract. I see this kind of modeling as closely related to both acting a character (where the character is supposed to be the focus), and acting in a commercial (where the product is supposed to be the focus). In both cases, actors themselves are not supposed to be a significant distraction.

  5. Elizabeth Fox Says:

    If it were her face on the cover and she was going around teling people on the subway “that’s me!” I’d think that’s kind of crazy, too. Models are chosen for their beauty and perfection, but ironically it’s a fungible, semi-anonymous beauty. Hand models, body doubles, people who do stunts, people who do the singing or dancing for the star…they’re certainly known in their industry, and sometimes you hear later about who they are, but generally their role is to make the product look good. If the hand model gets credit, why not the designer, the photographer, the food stylist (somebody chose that apple and maybe waxed it or painted it), etc. Sometimes that person’s already famous, or becomes famous, like Saul Bass for his movie title sequences. I always stay for the credits in a movie but frankly, I don’t care whose hands these are. I agree with Paul, and I agree with Adrian that knowing the face on a cover is a model destroys some of the illusion.

  6. Lynne Murray Says:

    For some reason this discussion also reminds me of the way some people confuse an actor with the most famous part he or she plays. I actually know otherwise saavy movie goers who avoided seeing any movie with certain actors because they hated what the character that the actor played did in a previous movie. Ah, reality, we hardly know ye…

  7. Debbie Says:

    Nancy, I think that would make me put the book down too, which is sad because the book sounds interesting otherwise.

    Paul, we do have that kind of detailed credits in movies; why not in books? As for her contributing to the book, no, of course she didn’t. But she contributed to a widely distributed and popular image which is connected in people’s minds with the book. More about this as I answer other comments. (I don’t know who the copy-editor was; but I will tweak you since you’re criticizing the copy-editing and point out that the author spells her first name Stephenie.)

    Adrian, I look forward to the other comment, if you choose to make it. As for the illusion issue, speaking for myself, I can hold the illusion and the reality side by side pretty comfortably, and while I’m sure not everyone can/should/wants to, I think that’s kind of what’s expected of us in contemporary culture (see Lynne’s comment about mistaking the actor for the role). I wonder how many people really do forget that the person on the book cover or poster is a model, that the person in the commercial or the movie is an actor. It would make an interesting study.

    Lizzie and Lynne, I think I mostly answered you above, and thanks for your two cents.

  8. Jenny Says:

    Although I enjoy every volume of the Twilight series I never thought at the cover, until now. I don’t know what to say about this. But I must say that the cover of the book is the first impact with people, after that the content. When I see new book with an awesome cover I grab it and see what is about. but the cover makes me do that.

  9. Pearl Says:

    That’s interesting, this sense of identity and hands. In the self-portrait project I notice how many people self-identify as their face, or just eye. http://www.flickr.com/groups/365days/
    Faces are more expressive but hands are distinctive.

    To have a whole list of credits in a book would be cool, not just to help the careers of the people who helped the book. Where would it stop? Including where the apple came from would be quirky. I’m the sort who sits thru all the movie’s credits even if I will never see the names again or have any need to know. Books already include all kinds of info we don’t “need”, like colophon of publisher or birthdate of author.

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