Tapered Fingers – A 19th Century Aesthetic Ideal

What constitutes beauty in the human form changes over time and between cultures.  A recent article in the Journal of Hand Surgery described belief that tapered fingertips on a woman was an aesthetic ideal.  This trend began in the early 19th century and seems to have disappeared by the middle of the 20th century.  Because there was a thought that various activities, including playing musical instruments or typing on the recently invented typewriter could produce blunt or flared fingertips, various devices were patented to reform the fingertip in a more tapered shape.  Whether or not these contraptions were effective is unclear.  There were even finger massage techniques to taper fingers occasionally described and published in lay articles in the 1940s and 50s.

There were rare reports of surgical procedures to taper fingers, one for a fat fingered violinist.  The ultimate outcome is unknown.  This recalled an experience I had with a man that came to me a few years ago wanting to facilitate his guitar playing ability by having me narrow his fingertips surgically.  He did have fairly wide fingers, but I pointed out that B.B. King’s fingers were much fatter than his and B.B. plays guitar pretty well (and he’s old and diabetic, too!).  I could perhaps see some potential benefit, but the risks seemed significant – scarring, loss of sensation, stiffness, etc.  Plus, I had never operated on normal fingertips for such a questionable purpose.  (I thought about a couple of my plastic surgeon colleagues who have had individuals come to them with a very thick envelope of cash and a request to remove the fingerprints from their fingers – the same risks, and a few others!).  I declined.

Here’s an image I took from the article that shows several patented devices….

Weird, huh?

-Douglas Mackenzie, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Douglas J. Mackenzie, MD

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