When I was a child I would bite my nails. One day when I was about ten years old, my dad looked down at my hands and said to me, “Your hands are too pretty to be doing that to them.” From that moment on I never bit my nails again. I didn’t want to disappoint my dad, but mostly I wanted to see what he saw, pretty hands. My sister had long beautiful nails and I wanted my hands to be as pretty as hers. All it took for me was a commitment to finally notice my hands, which I had never really done before the day my dad made that comment.
My nails did grow over time and I began to appreciate that feminine look that longer nails could offer, but my nails weren’t as pretty as my sister’s. I don’t know why, but they always seemed to break in odd ways or look ragged. I just couldn’t seem to keep them the way my sister kept hers. I also had eczema, a terrible skin rash that seemed to deform my fingers with its burning red crusty rash that got between each finger. My hands always hurt from this. And, although my parents tried to ease the pain of it, there was never a cure for it, so it became my childhood shame. I would sit on my hands a lot to prevent people from seeing the swollen red painful hands that embarrassed me constantly. When someone would see my hands, they would often ask, “What’s wrong with your hands?” As a shy child who only wanted acceptance from everyone, this was devastating for me, so I hid my hands.
As a young woman in my early twenties, my eczema became so bad that I would have to sometimes wrap my hands in bandages before going to the grocery store because I didn’t want anyone to comment on my ugly hands. I looked like I had third degree burns at times. This was the most painful time I had ever had with my hands. Finally a doctor gave me a strong cortisone cream and this finally cleared up my terrible rash, but the scars of self doubt and not liking my hands remained for many many years. I continued to hide my hands for a very long time ashamed of the physical scars the rash had left behind.
Occasionally I would see my hands in pictures of me and think what lovely hands I had. My fingers are small, slender, and delicate. Rings have always looked good on my delicate hands. After realizing this, sometime in my thirties, I began to paint my nails and pamper my hands more. I was finding an appreciation for hands that had once brought me so much pain and shame. I could finally shake someone’s hand and feel good about it. You never think about things like that when you have had nice hands all your life, but a terrible skin rash makes you painfully aware of every touch; every physical encounter. I was now beginning to feel the freedom of my hands and how wonderful it felt to not hide them, but to actually celebrate them.
Just a few years ago I noticed my hands had begun to change. The small joint on my pinky finger on my left hand was beginning to swell and ache. I did some research and found out that strong cortisone treatments could be causing this reaction. So, although the cortisone in my twenties had taken away a lot of my painful rash, it was now possibly causing a different kind of pain, a deterioration of my joint. I can’t be certain it was the cortisone, but I’m sure it did have something to do with it.
I was disappointed to see my beautiful little finger looking misshapen from the swollen joint. But, more than that the pain was very uncomfortable at times, especially while cooking and doing the dishes. After about a year the pain began to go away, but my joint remained large. My little finger now had a permanent bump on it. And now my other pinky on my right hand is doing the same thing making anything I do with my hands painful at times. I’ve also noticed sun spots showing up on my right hand. My smooth skin is now becoming blotchy with spots. And, my veins are protruding more. My hands are showing age. They don’t look as delicate. They are looking like the hands of a woman who has touched a lot of life.
It’s not easy to watch my hands change. It took me years to even want to look at my hands and then when I finally did appreciate them I learned to love their smooth skin with long graceful nails. Now I look at them and wonder whose hands I am seeing, their appearance is changing so much.
This may sound trivial to most people, but to a woman who has been ashamed of her hands for a good portion of her life and then finally found beauty in them, this is an important realization; that my hands are changing and I am finding a new way of looking at them.
In my desire to always see beauty in everything, then I will see beauty in my hands no matter how old they get or how much they hurt because these hands have touched a lot of living. These are the hands that have touched my newborns the moment they took their first breaths. They have held a sick friend’s scared hand as she lay dying from cancer. They have offered comfort to crying children and baked them cookies to soothe their pains. They have felt the last breath taken as my little dog left us and held our new puppy two weeks later as she kissed and kissed my hands. They have baked cakes for weddings and birthdays. They have stroked my husband’s hair as he has fallen asleep after a long and stressful day. These hands have decorated celebration tables for many special occasions. They have hugged, soothed, wiped, cleaned, offered hope, typed my thoughts, made me tea, planted flowers, touched the sky, felt the ocean…..
These hands have known beauty, because they have touched life. My hands are beautiful hands.