Em­bar­rassed? Not so much (now)

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

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.)

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