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To Blush or Not To Blush

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Average Everygirl #9: Average encounters the Hot Guy, part 3 |  Panel 1: Average and the Hot Guy stand opposite each other. The narrator says, "Average, you really don't get flustered around the Hot Guy?" and Average replies, "I don't turn into a gibbering idiot." | Panel 2: The narrator asks, "You don't trip over your own feet? Knock things over? Babble?" Average says, "Nope. It hasn't happened yet." | Panel 3: The narrator says, "Then, what? There must be something." Average, noticing that the Hot Guy is looking at her with his lopsided smile, said, "I might blush if he stares at me too long." | Panel 4: The narrator, triumphant, cries, "Yes!! This is progress!" Average says, "No, it's just human physiology. Staring makes people uncomfortable."

This comic closes the Hot Guy series, though we certainly haven’t seen the last of him. As I’ve already ranted said my piece regarding this particular trope, I’m taking my commentary in a different direction. Contrary to popular perception, it’s okay to blush.

I am pale-skinned, of the pasty, burns-but-doesn’t-tan variety. This means that, in addition to having to avoid the sun like a vampire, I get to exhibit any emotional discomfort in full, vibrant display. At the slightest embarrassment, or confusion, or self-consciousness, my whole face turns pinky-red.

It clashes with my hair. I hate it.

But it’s a natural physical reaction, and being embarrassed about it only compounds the problem. I fought it for decades. Sometime in the last couple of years, I finally decided, “Meh. There’s nothing I can do, so I might as well just breathe and let it take its course.”

And that philosophy has served me well ever since.

Put to a blush

As it turns out, blushing is connected to our fight-or-flight reaction and is 100% uncontrollable… unless you want to have a few little nerves in your spine snipped to end the problem, that is. It’s called an endothoracic sympathectomy. (You can read more about it and the science of blushing HERE.) Surgery’s not so much my thing, but I can understand why others might lean that direction. Modern culture reveres a calm and stoic demeanor. Showing emotion indicates weakness, and blushing is the ultimate emotional cue. You can fake a smile. A blush, not so much.

And that, perhaps, is the very reason we should cherish this particular bodily quirk. Our instincts warn and preserve us. They indicate when a situation is off-kilter. If I’m blushing, it means something in my immediate environment is out of alignment with my sense of normal. If someone else is blushing, it means the same for them.

It’s a brilliant social cue, in other words.

Characters who blush reveal something not just about themselves, but about the world around them: its rules, its restrictions, its social structure. Tempted as I am to make my characters cool and always in control, I’d be forfeiting a valuable communication tool in the process.

So let ’em blush, I say. I mean, I certainly don’t create whole worlds so my characters can be comfortable.