Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Are you ever staring at this beautiful person in front of you? And then quickly pretending you weren’t, when you get caught? 

Guilty as charged – I do. I feel awed when I see a truly beautiful person, even more so, if the person is stylish and moves with grace. And I feel drawn to study this beauty, sometimes not recognizing I am doing it until – yes, until the person meets my eyes. 

If the person I am staring at is female, I have learned to smile when the eye contact happens. It’s quite frequent in Switzerland to greet unknown people in the neighborhood when entering a room with people in it, or even in trains, so it does not feel embarrassing. 

If the person is male, though, I try not to get caught. Smiling back could be taken as encouragement of a sort, but merely diverting my gaze is too embarrassing :). So yes, I sometimes to pretend that my gaze just slipped over that person at this specific moment, but I was looking at the display at the end of the train wagon or for the coming tram on the tram stop (shame)

And while my staring is always purely aesthetical (I appreciate the beauty in arts, literature, and nature, but I genuinely believe that human face is the ultimate media for enjoying beauty), I do realize that the person I am currently starring at might not share this view. I am uncomfortable when people are staring at me. So I wonder, why do we stare and how is staring handled in different cultures.

I remember having read once, that people’s reactions when having to deal with beautiful people are very different. Some are even scared to sit next to a beautiful person in public transport. So I decided to see what the Internet has to say about this today.

Why do we stare?

According to Deanne Musolf, humans are genetically predisposed to be attracted to symmetrical faces to ensure long-term survival. We unconsciously see symmetry as a marker of genetic quality. Being social animals, humans have devised a particular screening process, to feel safe when mixing with vast numbers of unfamiliar members of our species. During this screening, our brain tries to sort the person we glance into one of two categories – safe or potentially unsafe. When the face we look at is distorted, our brain has no patterns to match it with something it knows. So we stare. Staring is a result of the amygdala (collection of cells near the base of the brain, involved in experiencing emotions) hijack, pretty much like a computer unable to process the command (Musolf).

While Musolf speaks about the reasons we stare at distorted faces, I am sure the same applies to staring at beautiful people. In the end, their faces are indeed outstanding when compared to our usual set of patterns (i.e., faces around us). 

Eye contact in different cultures

Our culture influences us and our worldviews. Recent research has shown that it even determines how we look at each other (Gobel, Chen, and Richardson). Some studies confirm that individuals from an East Asian culture perceive another person’s face as angrier and unpleasant when making eye contact (Attention to eye contact in the West and East). 

The Travel even created a list of destinations where eye contact is not recommended. In Japan, eye contact during conversation is considered rude. In China, you look directly in the eyes if you are angry. In Vietnam, direct eye contact is a way of showing interest in the opposite gender). UK, Greece, and France are on the other end of the line, as avoiding or interrupting eye contact during conversations is considered rude in these countries.

How does it feels when people stare at you?

Interestingly enough, beautiful people are not always super-happy about them being beautiful. They are being stared at, which makes them feel uncomfortable. They are evaluated by their looks only, have to cope with their friends being jealous as they are “stealing the show.” We tend to be nervous around beautiful people. Even compliments about how beautiful they are can be tiring (here is the collection of interviews with beautiful people as reference). 

Are you scared of beautiful people?

In terms of phobias, some individuals suffer from so-called venustraphobia or fear of beautiful women. The Internet is full of stories from people who complain they feel awkward, nervous, or stressed when being around beautiful people. Amanda Mull, a staff writer at The Atlantic, provides a compelling explanation, based on the studies of Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist – it’s all about our brain chemistry. Seeing an attractive person stimulates a dopamine rush in our brains. This rush might cause us to feel off-balance, even if dopamine is considered to be a fundamentally pleasurable experience.  

Conclusion

So, next time I catch myself staring at that beautiful person in front of me, I’ll feel a bit more comfortable knowing it’s not only me being rude my aesthetic pleasure in human beauty, but also my brain being currently dopamine-ized.