How to Look at Hands

It was neither love nor fear that made me do it
But the need for comfort
Mother said yes
My heart said whatever

It was neither love nor fear that made me wear it
But the look on her face when I said I love you
It’s the look I saw in The Notebook
Cue the soundtrack

And now when I walk into a room
I feel the glares
wandering where
My hand goes



Barnes, Britney. “Black Love”. 2017. Photograph.



Whether we are on the subway in Toronto or seated in a classroom, it is an undeniable fact that we notice people’s hands. The way we see an individual is shifted once our eyes wander to their hands. When two people hold hands there is so much to be understood from it as hands are complex markers in society. From two friends on their way to lunch to two lovers with the need to be close to each other , hands have proved to be communicative tools that are symbolic of love and commitment.


When we look at someone’s hands it is not so much about whether they need a manicure or if their pinky is a little bit crooked, but often so to see if they are wearing a ring. What has been coined “ the ring finger” is a marker for many that indicates the relationship status of an individual. Once someone wears a ring on this finger ones perspective shifts of the individual without them even being aware of such. Though our perspective of hands and rings is somewhat subjective to our experiences and knowledge, it is also rooted in norms and ideologies. For a widower wearing her ring might be a source of comfort, for a divorced male it may be a reminder of all that he has lost and for some of my colleagues it really is just another finger.The reason that this finger is used for the purpose of marriage is the belief that it is the only one that has a vein which directly connects to one’s heart. The idea then seems to be that the relation between hand and heart allows for a connectivity that is somehow symbolic of love and commitment.


When we look at a person we get a sense of who they are usually through their facial expressions and body language especially. In a glance and go society the question stands as to why hands and rings are so important. There seems to be no true relation between a circular metal object on the third finger of one’s hand and the decision to love and be with someone. The institution of marriage is merely a symbol for some people. For others it is a sacred union between two people and God. In any case hands and rings are really as seen in these images, social markers and indicators. Why then are we bound by hands? The intimacy that comes from physical contact with another individual shows how our interaction with those around us affects ideally our understanding of intimacy and relationships. When physical contact takes place between two people it is usually an intimate gesture that breaks through the boundaries of standardized formal interaction; our hands are agents of such intimacy.



Works Cited

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.