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Sunday, Aug. 12, 2001

She's got legs . . .

. . . and knows how to use them

Staff writer

You've probably seen her somewhere -- on product packaging, in fashion catalogs or TV commercials. But no one would recognize her, because she is famous only for her legs.

Naoko Kimura's legs (top) and Naoko Kimura

The owner of this pair of slim, beautiful legs is Naoko Kimura, a veteran leg model (called a "parts model" in Japan).

Her break into leg modeling came after she first auditioned for facial pictures. Kimura has now been in the parts modeling business for about 10 years, doing ads and commercials for stockings and socks, shoes and foot- and leg-care products.

Incredibly, she is still not confident about the appearance of her legs.

"I didn't know how far I could go with the job, because I've always had trouble with my feet and legs," she said. "Some people have beautiful legs to start out with and don't need to take care of them so much, but it was different with me."

Kimura said she has rather hairy legs for a woman. Furthermore, since she did classical ballet and jazz dance, and had a fondness for high heels, her feet were always calloused.

Since her legs were "discovered," however, she has tried to keep both her legs and feet in good condition through everyday care.

First, she started avoiding shoes that put pressure on her toes. Now she only wears sneakers. If she goes to a party, she wears sneakers until she gets there, then changes into high heels, being careful to put Band-Aids on the parts of her feet that might touch the shoes.

Also, she wears long pants and socks, especially during the summer, in order to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Once on a location shoot she was bitten by mosquitoes 20 times, and was subsequently found to be allergic to them. Since then, she has become very cautious and tries to avoid them wherever she goes.

Kimura massages her legs in the bath tub every day in order to help the blood flow smoothly. "When my circulation is bad, my legs become swollen or my skin color darkens. In order to avoid that, I massage them every day, saying to the fat on my legs 'this is not where you belong,' " she said. She says it is most effective to massage from the bottom to the top of the legs.

The model also regularly does simple exercise -- walking or stretching. She says excessive exercise puts a burden on the legs, as well as the rest of the body, although prolonged inactivity (particularly if you stay in the same position) is not good for your health either.

One would imagine that a leg model would go to an esthe (beauty) or massage salon regularly, but Kimura does all her leg care herself.

"Professional care is expensive, and in any case your own hand knows the most about your skin condition," she said. "If you're suffering from dry heels, simple care such as applying a little bit of facial lotion to your feet every day makes a huge difference."

Besides mosquitoes, many dangers surround Kimura's legs in daily life. While on the train she tries to avoid pointed or sharp-edged objects such as umbrellas, attache cases and tennis rackets. When going up and down the stairs at stations she must take care not to fall and injure her legs.

"No one can tell that I'm a leg model just from the way I look, so I can't blame anyone who bumps into me or pushes me over," she said. "I'm the only one who can protect myself."

What has she worked at the most during her years as a leg model?

"Studying how my legs are seen and photographed," she said. After an assignment, she would take home Polaroids and experiment in front of the mirror to determine which poses made her legs look beautiful. She also conducted informal research about legs, flipping through magazines, watching television programs and exchanging ideas with other leg models or the masseurs she worked with.

After years of experimentation Kimura believes that her legs now appear more attractive, especially the calves which have lost their former tight muscles and become softer. She has also found some beautiful poses, such as how to place one leg in front of the other so that both look shapely.

Although many people imagine leg models are well paid, Kimura says her monthly earnings are less than those of an average office lady. What, then, makes her continue with this painstaking job? The answer lies in the interest she takes in discovering what kind of care is right for her legs, practicing it and seeing the results.

"Compared to hand models, whose age can be seen in their hands, leg models have longer careers," Kimura noted. "I mean to take good care of my legs, and continue this work as long as possible."

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