This morning I had a one-minute conversation with a little girl about her rain boots that ended in my face turning a bright and painful red. That’s all we talked about–how cool her rain boots were, how much I wished I had a pair of my own–but by the time she walked away, I was blushing from the roots of my hair to the neckline of my shirt for no reason at all. I was so red that a passing lobster mistook me for a long-lost friend. I was so red that Joe McCarthy came back from the dead, declared me a communist and had me blacklisted from Hollywood. I was so red that… well, you get the idea.
This kid hadn’t made fun of me, or complimented me, or even told me a dirty joke. It was like my brain said, “What’s this? A conversation about rain boots with a seven-year-old? Better pump so much blood into Stephanie’s face that her feet fall asleep!”
As an awkward, pale person, random blushing attacks like that happen to me annoyingly often. Like, multiple times a day. That doesn’t make them less miserable. My body’s default response to humiliation, or kindness, or rain boots is to turn every visible inch of my skin such a deep red that everyone who can see me instantly knows how uncomfortable I am.
Things That Make Me Blush
– Telling people my name or age or about the book I’m reading.
– When my grandma uses the word “bosoms”.
– When my dad says “young ladies”, for some reason.
– Confrontations, even between other people. Even on TV.
– Talking about anything.
– Thinking about anything.
– Existing on planet Earth.
It’s actually a pretty neat trick–my whole face turns red and in just a few seconds I start to get hot and sweaty. Picture a steamed tomato. Now picture a steamed tomato with an apparent forehead vein, because that’s what happens next. The only thing that makes me blush harder than anything else on that list is discussion of my forehead vein, which is a problem because it also tends to fascinate the people around me. I try to cover it with my hand, which inevitably leads to someone asking what I’m doing, which leads to more blushing. It’s a vicious cycle.
And while I can light up like a Christmas tree at the stupidest things, there are times when I should be blushing out of basic human decency and my blood vessels just won’t cooperate.
Things That Don’t Make Me Blush
– Dirty jokes.
– Watching sex scenes in movies with my family members.
– Realizing that I’m talking too much about my cat
– Discussing my first grade crush, a boy with red hair that he wore in a rattail.
– Discovering that I had mooned everyone on my walk to work because my dress was riding up in the back.
– Discovering that it happened again on the way home.
I don’t like blushing because it’s inherently uncool. Did James Dean blush in Rebel Without a Cause? No. Did the Sundance Kid blush when he admitted to Butch Cassidy that he couldn’t swim? No! Did Did Han Solo blush when Princess Leia told him she loved him? No, although one could argue that he was about to be frozen in carbonite and had other things on his mind.
At best, blushing makes you look modest. At worst, it makes you look weak, and you probably are. Gazelles who stand around blushing about something they said to their gazelle friends get eaten by lions. That’s the circle of life, and it’s hard on the socially awkward.
The Internet, in its infinite wisdom, says no one really knows why we blush. Darwin called it “the most peculiar and most human of all expressions.” One hypothesis is that we blush to convey to other people that we know we’ve done something wrong and that we want to fix it, preventing them from throwing us out of their social circles for yet another faux pas. Another says it’s a fight-or-flight reaction that happens in situations when we know we can’t do either one. One study showed that people who blush easily are more generous, trustworthy and virtuous than the people who don’t. It also posited that blushers make better lovers, but you should know that I’m blushing as I type this.
Maybe Han did blush when Leia confessed her feelings. Maybe that 9,000-degree increase in body temperature is what kept him alive through the freezing process, and when you think about it that way, blushing doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
All I know is that the next person who talks to me about their rain boots is in for a treat.