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In some cases, the sufferer’s cheeks, ears, or neck grow red. Other people’s entire faces burn, or the heat washes over their head like a wave. A person who blushes feels stripped bare, even when fully clothed. A blush can be triggered by shame, guilt, joy, excitement, or irritation, and can strike when we are alone or in the company of others. But it is never under our control. It can happen when we are praised, criticized, or caught off guard. A blush can be a sign of attraction or of “hot” thoughts. Or a person may blush because she realizes she is unprepared for an important discussion or presentation – or at least feels that way. Sometimes it’s enough to drive you crazy, but blushing also has a positive side.

Blushing is just one possible reaction to feelings of shame, which in turn arise under very different circumstances in different people. Some people never blush in embarrassing situations: instead, they may grin, laugh, or involuntarily alter the timbre of their voices. “Social” blushing is also distinct from hot flashes, stage fright, skin diseases, or the reddening of the skin as a result of physical effort, happiness, or alcohol consumption.
More… “Better Red”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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In old novels and plays, the woman who blushes is invariably described as lovely and virtuous. Jane Austen, for instance, created charming characters whose blushing was a sign of modesty and sincerity. Paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries often display pink-cheeked women looking sweet. Think of the many beautiful and blushing young women Auguste Renoir painted over the years.

But today, instead of being viewed as attractive, blushing is seen as an expression of shame and embarrassment. Contemporary accounts of the blush portray it almost entirely in negative terms. The blusher’s red face seems to unmask a person who just isn’t right with the world, quite literally an uncool character, one who has somehow crossed the boundary between the outside social world and the private inner life.

People who blush a lot are sometimes called “pathological” blushers. They blush at unexpected moments over nothing in particular. The psychological-physiological tic… More…