Embarrassed? Not so much (now)
Charles Darwin described it as ‘‘the most peculiar and most human of all expressions’’. Not laughing nor crying, but the involuntary capitulation of your facial capillaries to blush.
Like acne, periods, and unrequited crushes, blushing seems to make its most torturous outings during your teenage years. God, how I remember the shame of being seen at school with a zipper flying low, a bra strap showing, or a booger up your nose. Or worse: being caught practising your signature using your big sister’s boyfriend’s surname, dotting the I’s with love hearts and crossing the T’s with cupid’s arrows.
Like tickling yourself, you can’t force yourself to blush – it just happens naturally – and once you’re blushing you can’t stop it either. When your sympathetic nervous system is overwhelmed with embarrassment it releases adrenaline that dilates your blood vessels and literally sends a rush of blood, if not to your head, then straight to your face.
We blush when we’re embarrassed, aroused, intoxicated, nervous, or simply because we’ve unexpectedly received a compliment. (Though it was me who blushed like a buffoon when, on a blind date once, I texted my best friend to tell her that ‘‘He’s sooooo hot!’’ – only to text it across the table by mistake. Beep, beep went the soundtrack to my instant shame.)
Some poor sods regularly turn red for no reason; they suffer from a syndrome known as Idiopathic craniofacial erythema. This can prove to be socially debilitating, yet blushing isn’t all bad. Psychologists say people predisposed to blushing also tend to be perceived as more trustworthy, empathetic and self-aware. Or just a bit daft, like my husband. He took his staff to the races for their company Christmas party last month, and made a right nob of himself, prematurely celebrating a trifecta win when the race still had a full lap to run. (The fact that his horses did eventually cross the finish line in first, second, and third went unnoticed: we were all still laughing too hard at him to notice.)