Of all the odd things our bodies do, blushing sure ranks high on the strange-o-meter.
A recent “The Body Odd” podcast revealed that we blush when our sympathetic nervous systems kick into gear, prompting our bodies to release adrenaline and various chemicals. This phenomenon was described as “the Catch 22 of the sympathetic nervous system” because blushing happens when we feel self-conscious, and then it makes us feel even more self-conscious.
We asked readers to write in and share their most mortifying moments — particularly moments that led to some serious blushing. You filled up our inbox with plenty of embarrassing tales and vented about the way your skin tone can betray you and become beet red in mere seconds.
“I could just be thinking that a business associate I met was attractive, but not be attracted to him at all, and blush so brightly to prompt everyone at the meeting asking me what’s wrong and why is my face so red,” laments Heather of Portland, Ore.
Or how about a scenario like this one that's enough to make anyone blush?
“While teaching 46 eighth-grade girls years ago, I noticed they were giggly, not unusual for a crowd like that,” writes Dave from Mansfield, Ohio. “What I didn’t notice until late in the period was my fly was down — and I had my hands in my pocket most of the time.”
Read on for more mortifying tales:
Oh man, I blush 18 shades of red when I’m embarrassed. I have such fair skin (even my hairdressers don’t know I’m not a natural redhead) that I burn, even in Wisconsin sun, in 10 minutes. My most memorable time was when I was in my college orchestra as a music major on violin. Something was said about me, and of course I turned red. My director then comments, “Hey look, her shirt, her violin and her face all match!” at which point I went past red to purple. Mortifying then, fun to think about now.
— Amy, Sussex, Wis.
In my freshman year of college, on a Friday afternoon when the campus was buzzing with people, I was straddling my bike and getting ready to take off for home after math class. Just then a guy I had had a crush on for months, a very popular rugby player, stopped and told me about a party later that night. Beaming, I gushed about how I would be there, and I was so excited, and thanks for asking, and on and on. When he turned to leave, I pushed off on my bike pedals, beaming and elated, sure that everyone who noticed must be thinking, “Who’s that girl?!” Upon takeoff, surrounded by my adoring new fans, I promptly flipped right over the handle bars and crumpled to the ground with my bike on top of me. I have never forgotten to remove the tire lock again.
— Cynthia, Boulder, Colo.
Once at work this old lady (old to me, I’m 23 at the time) who worked in the lab (she’s like 40 or so) tells me I have pretty eyes. I say thanks and then turn red, even though she doesn’t intimidate me in the least. Well, she comes out and says, “Wow, even your neck and ears are turning red! Jodi, come look at him, he’s turned into a tomato!” Then Jodi laughs and comments. The two of them (both early 40s I would guess) laugh hysterically and very loudly while I try to cool down and ignore them, but I stay red like an apple. Then this girl my age who I find very attractive overhears all the racket and walks in. Now I’m in big trouble, my face feels like it’s on fire, but I don’t run and stand my ground. My pretty friend tells the other two to back off and gives me a hug. I felt big as a mouse, appearing embarrassed and intimidated enough to have my pretty friend stand up for me. She is normally so soft-spoken. I got the courage to ask her out a few weeks later and she turned me down. I heard it’s because she thought I was too sensitive! Ask my friends if I’m sensitive and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy! Damn redness!
— ‘Red,’ Duluth, Minn.
I was in my high school English class and a friend was sharing her story about how she and I spent the afternoon shopping. When the teacher turned to me to ask about a missing detail, I immediately felt my face turn hot. I must have been much more red than I thought, because an obnoxious male classmate exclaimed, “She’s so red, she’s turning purple!” The entire class turned to look at me and I immediately fled the classroom.
— Amy, Palo Alto, Calif.
I blush all the time. If I go to the store and see someone, I blush; if I go out to eat and I see someone I know, I blush. I blush almost with everything and everyone I know. Sometimes I don’t go out just ‘cuz am afraid that I will see someone and then I will blush. Am tired of this, I want to see if you could help me on how to get this fixed. If I want to tell someone a story about something/anything I will blush. I would say it happens 95 percent of the time throughout the day. Any help?
My most mortifying moment was in seventh grade when we (got) called by class to enter the lunch line. I was running and the teacher told me to slow down (everyone was running). He put his arm out to slow me down and my new boots stuck to the newly waxed gym floor and I fell flat on my face and busted out my two front teeth. We all know what I asked from Santa that year! Ha, ha, ha. I had to go to school for two weeks with no front teeth until I got my caps. Now that is embarrassing!
— Bradi, Pataskala, Ohio
I turn red at the drop of a hat, especially in uncomfortable situations. Just from the neck up. It can last for a while as well. Is there anything to do about this? It’s a little embarrassing.
— Thomas, Memphis
When I had to go into a all men’s sports place to get my husband a jock strap that the doctor told him he needed, not knowing they came in sizes, I had to leave and go ask husband what size. He said medium. I went back in and said “small” for not telling me they come in sizes.
— Anonymous, Panama City, Fla.
While working at a prestigious bank on the north shore of Chicago one Saturday morning after visiting the ladies’ room, I walked through the officers’ area, main lobby, customer service and back to my desk with my new high heel shoes and my silk dress tucked into the waist band of my pantyhose exposing the entire left cheek of my buttocks ... realizing that it was not the day to go without panties!!
My ears turn bright red when I get embarrassed or when I’m around someone I like. My most mortifying moment came when I sat next to an attractive man in a one-month class. For two weeks, my ears would turn red whenever I was around him – I felt like I was flashing my interest in him since I had to keep my hair pulled back while in the military. My classmates would ask me why my ears were so red and I gave the lame excuse of windburn. The red ears went away after I started dating the guy.
— Diane, Honolulu
I hate my blushing. I’m very fair-skinned and when I blush I practically put off a red glow. I blush incredibly easily; in fact, I think I have social anxiety, and my panic is always accompanied by blushing. There was an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” in which a girl underwent an operation to surgically remove whatever creates the blush. I’m dying to know if this is possible!
Red? More like purple. ... One of the many things I hate about being “purple” is at family gatherings or work events if a photograph is taken. There I am standing out in the photo with the beet red face. Looking at the photos makes me turn red. There is no shortage of people ready to tell you the obvious, that you are so red in the face or ask why you’re turning red.
— Alan, Monroe, N.C.
I turn red and splotchy as soon as I tell myself “don’t turn red and splotchy.” As soon as the spotlight is unexpectedly on me, it’s over. Then I get even more embarrassed about blushing, because it’s like, “Aw, she’s blushing. But why, what’s wrong?” What was worse was when I was younger, along with blushing came uncontrollable eye watering. So every time I got up for an oral book report or something, the waterworks started up and it looked like I was crying – on top of the splotchy neck and chest. You can’t explain that to a junior high classroom. Torture.
— Betsy, Atlanta
Yes! I blush all the time and I hate hate hate it. Even when I don’t feel very embarrassed, I blush. One instance of this is at work. I was eating lunch in the office with about nine other people. Someone made a sarcastic comment about me being too loud while up there. (I’m very quiet and to myself). Everyone laughed, ha-ha. Then he jokingly said something about catching me do blow while in my office ... I felt like I was blushing from my forehead to my fingertips. And of course everyone said, “Ohhhh, Emma! You’re blushing!” Which makes it even worse. Ick.
— Emma, Chicago
My 15-year-old daughter has a blushing issue. She will blush when she is at school during lunch and a boy that she thinks is cute walks by. Her friends notice and laugh and then she blushes even more. Her worst moment was on a day when she arrived at school earlier than usual. A boy who had been running on the track was holding the door open for her. The problem was that he didn’t have his shirt on. She said that she could just feel her cheeks heating up and tried to hide her face, but unfortunately for her, he noticed and she heard it being discussed later in a classroom. As soon as she heard it and saw people turning to look at her, her cheeks were reddening again. I think it is kind of cute, but she doesn’t agree.
— Diana, Pevely, Mo.
I was sitting in my Statistics class spilling my guts to my best friend about just how steamy my relationship with my boyfriend was getting when my friend motioned for me to turn around. I did, and my teacher was standing right behind me as was the class oddly silent. Needless to say, my cheeks were on fire. Now when I walk into class people ask me, “So how are things with your boyfriend?”
— Mortified in Maryland