How I Deal with Being Stared At
Burping, spitting, passing gas, nose-picking, gum slapping: most of these come to mind as topping the list of public etiquette taboos. One, however, that often doesn’t come to mind—not because it isn’t a common practice—is staring. Believe me, I should know.
I have found myself the object of many unwanted stares. I was born with a rare muscle disorder that wrecked havoc on my skeletal system leaving me physically challenged and my body deformed. My hips were displaced at a very young age, and progressive Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) disfigured my rib cage.
Among family and friends I have always been accepted regardless of my physical appearance. This cocoon helped me to gain self-esteem early in life. I learned that what looked like on the outside did not reflect who I was on the inside. But I also realize that in the public sphere, looks are first impressions. And on occasion, the staring really does bother me. They make assumptions of what is “wrong” with me, or how old I am. If the most curious actually do approach me and discover I am neither I ease their conscience and thank them for asking.
I don’t know why I thank them. The result of being taught to be gracious I suppose. My parents were never ones to cause a scene—even when they found themselves under scrutiny. My mother told me the story of how when I was three or four years old she took me to the State Fair just shortly after I had undergone corrective hip surgery and had to wear what practically amounted to a full-body plaster cast. People stared rudely and questioned her as if I was suffering under some twisted cult ritual. Or when a few years later my mom had prevent a rukous from erupting at my sister’s birthday party when her friend yelled “Take a picture, it’ll last longer!” at some pre-teen kids who continued to stare and point.
Dealing with children who are staring
Children are the hardest do deal with because of the sympathy I have for them. I understand that many times they stare because they are curious, or simply haven’t been taught not to stare. Too many times children have incessantly forced their parents to look my way saying, “Look mommy, look! Look at that girl. What’s wrong with her?” The parents try the old distract-and-avoid technique to no avail. The child always wins. The parent looks, awkwardly smiles, and then leaves (child in tow, still inquiring) as soon as possible.
I, however, have no sympathy for adults who stare because they know it is wrong and they do it anyway. The one place you would think I would be protected from prying eyes would be while driving inside my car. Not so. Once, while sitting in line at a drive-up bank teller service a man kept incessantly staring at me from inside of his car across the isle. His eyes were inanimate, frozen and looking directly at me. From behind the passenger side window of his white mini-van, he didn’t blink, wince, or even raise a brow. I could not escape his stare. I tried all of my usual coping methods: ignoring it, glancing back with a smile, and finally, simply staring back. But nothing deterred him. His relentless curiosity made me feel unusually self-conscious. It is something I have never forgotten.
I don’t want to seem misleading: every encounter outside my front door does not result in unpleasant scrutiny by an unscrupulous public sphere. In fact, most people are kind, polite and recognize the great diversity that exists among us all. They return my smile and say hello. And in fact in the rush of daily life, many people don’t even notice me. And that is just fine with me.
Click on the video thumbnail below to check out the video I made on the topic on my YouTube Channel.