For shame

Initially, Botox foxed me.  Setting aside botulism’s unknowable long-term beauty impact (a side order of tumour with your otherwise smooth brow, madam?), I was unconvinced that facial paralysis is attractive.  Didn’t self-expression connect us with people?  Then I grew older and wrinklier.  Then I heard that Botox stops blushing.  Should I, could I…

 

Red is great.  It’s the colour of romance and squashed cars driven by short men with hilarious, forget-me-not hair.  Roses and Ferraris are red because it embodies sex, life and danger in efficient pigment code.  That’s why most women wear blusher.  But as a serial face-melt offender, I used to hate involuntary blushing. What bothered me was the message that it sends.  Namely, that something has got under my skin, and a shameful part of me is screaming to get out.  

 

But embarrassment is a valuable social emotion.  Only humans blush, a puzzle that primatologist Frans de Waal reckons to be one of the few mysteries that Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot solve.  I disagree.  Since embarrassment transpires when social rules are broken, you could consider blushing a weakness, because it announces our feelings.  However, such weakness, such honesty, is attractive.  Men have long got hot over flushed maidens, which indicates that our species evolved to favour flushers.  Why? 

 

Humanity’s survival stems from our ability to follow social rules, co-operate, and be more than the sum of our parts.  And embarrassment is social sensitivity in action.  For every Alpha leader who can smile through his plausible lies, we need at least ten people who respect boundaries, and wince when they tread on toes.  Not only do we know where we are with Beta blushers, but their embarrassment, like a flashing stop sign, helps keep us in line.

 

Kingsley Amis observed that history is the tale of man, an animal, trying to convince himself that he isn’t an animal.  Emotions remind us of the truth. Yes, when you put your foot in it, you may long for the earth to open and welcome you back, like the worm you were before life grew so complicated.  But sensitivity is appealing, and all emotions convey information.  So if somebody embarrasses you, listen to the feeling.  

 

 

As seen in ES magazine


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1 Comment

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One response to “For shame

  1. Leo

    Great column! Thought provoking and funny. Fascinating how we have moved from the eternal Edwardian pot of rouge to make us appear to blush at all times to Botox, which has the opposite effect. I wonder which kind of mask is better? I guess what you are suggesting is that humans are most attractive when we let our masks slip.

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