Pffft, I thought.
Blushing is only adorable in children because when an adult’s face turns into a giant, ripe tomato it shouts: UTTERLY UNSURE ABOUT THIS SITUATION! which is not helpful unless facing crocodiles. In a meeting, it’s a disaster.
During my twenties I struggled to lie without blushing which was difficult in my advertising career. Like Russian Roulette I never knew when my cheeks would land on red, especially when everyone was staring at me.
If only I could have quipped:
“Excuse my face… “It’s a sign of profound thinking.”
or “I just remembered that shower scene in Psycho”
or “I’m in circulation training for old age!”
But when all the blood has rushed to the capillaries in the face it seems to leave the brain momentarily as there are no good lines in there, just one re-occurring thought ‘please face, are you listening to me, do not go red, goddamnit, just calm the hell down..’ Which is about as helpful as telling yourself to stop worrying.
In High School I blushed so hard one day some boys bestowed me with the nickname “Beet cheeks”. That’s a good title for a vegan porn star but not for a 15-year-old girl desperately trying to be cool.
Apparently, according to this research, the redness is never as bad as we imagine. I asked one of my dearest friends recently how obvious mine was and she pinched her cheeks. “Scarlet!” she said, followed by “rashy” and “violent”.
Hmmm. Rather obvious then.
I know ‘being vulnerable’ is the popular new emotion, and I think Brené Brown is marvellous (like the other 20 million people who have watched her TED talk), but being vulnerable in the cheeks is about as much fun as having nits; you would really prefer nobody knew. A few headlines say blushing ‘is good for you’ because we’re seen as trustworthy and blushers are found to be ‘better romantic partners because people who are easily embarrassed are more monogamous’.
That’s because blushers are lousy liars. Which is why you never see blushing politicians.
Turning scarlet is worse than going to work naked because if I went to work starkers I would be choosing to do so. With blushing there is no choice, no dial to select pale or crimson. It’s like somebody has jumped out of a cupboard in a meeting and whipped your clothes off showing everyone how awkward and uncomfortable you’re feeling. I tell you it’s not for the fainthearted; you have to be tough to survive.
As Stephen Fry said once, “Self-consciousness… I keep seeing myself. Me watching myself watching others watch me. How do you lose that? What’s the trick?”
One day, with a young baby, I saw a guy in a café who used to have a crush on me yet I blushed when I saw him, as if I suddenly had a crush on him. And it was one of those violent ones because I could feel my lobes burning. Humiliated by my unreliable face that was falsely advertising feelings I didn’t have, I couldn’t talk to him and sprinted away as fast as my blood could carry me.
The blush stopped me from getting out. I had things to say, really good things to say and my beet cheeks were stopping the flow.
Weirdly, post children the blushing got worse. A new mother doesn’t need more reasons to stay at home so I consulted that wise old psychologist, Dr Google. There I discovered that, unlike a sticky-out-ear – something physical we’re born with – our minds tell our cheeks to rage against our skin. Subconsciously we do it to ourselves. Which meant my mind was telling my capillaries to open with glee without my permission.
Skeptical yet determined, I marched off to hypnotherapy. And I don’t know why I feel slightly embarrassed to admit this – and being able to is testament that it worked because I am not blushing as I type this, not even one little snitchy bit of red around my gills – but it worked. Two sessions, 37 years of emotional baggage in tears, and a reboot was all that was required. By questioning the story I told myself about my blushing – it doesn’t make me weak, it doesn’t serve me at all – it was radically reduced. It was the best $240* I have ever spent.
This story is not meant to slam a mag, or release yet another embarrassing secret of mine into the world, but highlight the big question all philosophy students face – how are our mind and bodies connected? For years I thought they were separate, one doing nasty things to the other without my consent, but they’re not. Me, I, my conscious state is in charge. Hell, we are all running our own shows.
And I have to say that NOT blushing all the time makes me feel totally adorable.
*Meredith McCarthy in Wellington was my hypnotherapist.
This American Life has a top Podcast on how Blushing Means You Can’t Fake It Until You Make It.