Ergh, blushing. That dreaded phrase “You’ve gone red!” litters so many people’s teenage years and then some (sorry guys, it’s not going to stop after you’ve nailed puberty). It’s the most annoying song on the adolescence album, even including the “No, you’re not old enough” and “Can I see some ID please?” party (pooper) anthems.
As the old, slightly sinister, saying goes; Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so that’s what we’re going to do right now.
Let’s find out what blushing actually is, why we do it and whether or not there’s any way we can take back some control next time it turns up to the party, like a bully, and tells everyone who you fancy.
So, what actually is blushing?
Here’s what the NHS website tells us: ‘…blushing occurs when a strong emotional trigger stimulates the nervous system, resulting in the widening of the blood vessels in the face. This increases the flow of blood into the blood vessels just underneath the skin, causing your face to turn red.’ The website also states that blushing doesn’t just occur in the face, but can also make your neck, upper chest and ears scarlet.
Cool. So, essentially, blushing occurs because ‘strong emotional triggers’ just happen to widen blood vessels, which happen to increase the flow of blood to our faces (right where our eyes are, so people can really see it – again, cool), and blood happens to be red. Not see-through, or even a very subtle pastel shade. Red. So it just happens to be very obvious when we blush, particularly for people with pale skin.
What the experts say…
So what counts as a ‘strong emotional trigger’, and is there any way we can stop them?
The short answer is no. Of course we can’t. Although we can pretend to the outside world that everything’s fine, trying to make our nervous system believe that we’re feeling chilled when we’re not just isn’t possible.
However, there is hope. You know how sometimes you’re blushing a little, then someone points it out and somehow that makes it worse? Well, a 2009 study suggests that a fear of blushing exists, which makes us all have an even worse time when it happens. But findings from the same study also showed that, although the person blushing is having a negative reaction to it, people generally do not react with negative judgement when they see someone blush.
So in other words, the only person that really cares when you’re blushing is you.
Another study from 2014 showed that ‘children reported more fear of blushing than adults’. Which tells us that, although we may not grow out of blushing, something clearly happens as we get older to stop us caring so much. Maybe it’s the fact that being a teenager is incredibly difficult, and there are way more opportunities for blushing to attack.
How to deal
Now we know what blushing is, why we do it and what other people are thinking when it happens, let’s make it all a little less painful. We may not be able to stop it happening completely but, like macaroni cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a bad period day, there’s always a way we can relieve the stress a little.
Number one; remember the research. The majority of people are not judging you when you blush – because who would? Who takes pleasure out of someone else’s social discomfort? No one whose judgement we care to accept. Next!
Beat blush at its own game
It may seem like a silly tip, but if you can convince yourself that people can’t see you blush it may help the situation pass by a little quicker. One way to do this is to, ironically, wear blusher. At least, this worked for me and a bunch of friends at college, who all noticed a difference in the number of people noticing our blushing because our cheeks were already flush with Bourjois Rose D’Or.
Remember all the great women whose embarrassing moments – and their unapologetic honesty in those times – have made people absolutely adore them; Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, your friends, you. Try to embrace it. It’ll happen anyway. When you think about it, embarrassing moments are actually amazing. They make for hilarious stories and memorable life experiences.
In his famous book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin describes blushing as ‘the most peculiar and most human of all expressions’. But really, it’s the most human of all expressions.
We blush because we’re human, and to be human is to feel a load of things; embarrassment, attraction, awkwardness, guilt, panic. It’s not easy, but it is normal and we all do it. To blush is to feel emotion in its truest, no-hiding-it sense. So just try to ride the wave – and think of all the great anecdotes.
Image: Laura Callaghan