Do you embarrass easily?
I remember the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. When I turned 12 my parents arranged a surprise birthday sleepover with all my friends from school. It was everything a pre-teen sleepover should be, complete with ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’, funny movies, snack foods, and secret-sharing. That last part turned out to be a big mistake. Caught up in the excitement, I told everyone about my giant crush on a boy in our class. Well, take a tip from my experiences and be careful who you tell your secrets to because by Monday afternoon the whole class was gossiping away. I was in a Home Ec class, writing some notes when said Boy Crush walked over to me, with everyone around us giggling and watching, and said ‘Do you like me?’ Now, I could have said ‘Yes, actually. Who told you?’ but what I really did was cover my flaming red cheeks under my hair, stare down at my work and mumble ‘No. Of course not.’
Fast forward a bunch of years and I know that we would never have made a good couple as we grew up because we became very different people with precious little in common. But over the next few years I would occasionally think about how different things might have been had I overcome my embarrassment and told him I liked him, especially after I discovered he had liked me too.
Embarrassment is a funny thing. When we’re young it’s part of what helps us learn right from wrong. It’s how we learn to fit in with many societal norms and grow as people, and in that sense it can be a useful part of life.
But what about those who never learn to escape the feelings of shame? Those so fearful of humiliation they do nothing that might land them in an embarrassing situation. It is an extreme but one that is more common than you might think. And with the proliferation of cameras in everyday life, it is difficult to let your guard down in case you end up with your face splashed across everyone’s phone and computer screens. Just ask the woman who innocently took a shower at her gym and became the subject of body shaming at the fingertips of model Dani Mathers.
This fear of shame is so ingrained that last year, George at Asda conducted a study that concluded only one in fourteen women would leave the house without make up. On a logical level we know that we live in a self-obsessed society where everyone is too busy playing Angry Birds or Pokemon Go to notice our belly fat as we run or to see the dark circles under our eyes but our fear of humiliation and shame keeps us from testing this in real life.
Bruce Springsteen wrote in ‘Dancing in the Dark’ that you can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart and this is something it’s important to remember. Sometimes, the most fun we can have, the most we can achieve, the best we can live our lives is only possible once you stop fearing embarrassment. On Saturday, I was at my new job and cleaning a shelf that held dozens of bird feeders. Having stacked more than twenty of them on the floor next to me, I stood on a stool and was cleaning the shelf when I knocked something onto the floor, knocking down all the feeders like so many dominoes. It made the loudest crash I’ve heard in a long time. Was I embarrassed? Oddly, no. I nearly wet myself laughing! Because after that incident in school, faced with the boy I fancied and would never go out with, I realised my embarrassment had kept me from something I wanted. I never wanted that to happen again. And now, I am sorry to say I have no shame. I’ll sing loudly and proudly in front of anyone. I don’t fear smear tests. I don’t care about looking stupid in an exercise class.
Okay, I might look like an idiot. But hey, at least I’m doing it!