Six Strategies to Not Care When People Stare at You

When my girlfriend started to go through chemotherapy, she shaved her head. She didn’t want to start losing her rock star style shaggy hair in great clumps so she figured she’d go bald on her own. She doesn’t shy away from flamboyance, so she did a whole head shaving party and got our buddy Khane Kutzwell from Camera Ready Kutz to do a whole fancy design, that you can see in the below video.

Shortly thereafter, folks started staring at her more than they used to. Especially as her hair thinned and she slowly went bald. She worried, when it got really obvious that she was balding, about what other people were thinking about her.

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I could relate to how she was feeling. I used to constantly stress out about what people thought about me, even when I was a more run of the mill fat girl when I was a late teenager and in my early twenties. (I did my best to blend in, but it’s hard when you’re 5’7” and fat.) As I started to come more into my own, I started dressing more flamboyantly and now I get noticed a lot. It’s actually kind of a relief in New York City because you get less stares when you look like a weirdo than you do outside of the city. I often forget how conspicuous I am until I travel.

13513393314_3d9cd2f604_zPhoto I took in a bathroom on a road trip through small towns when I realized people were staring at me and I remembered that I usually stick out.

A lot of folks do the long look to try to decide what’s going on with someone when they look unusual. And that’s way more noticeable when you’re not used to it. It feels weird. And when Dara started to notice it, she felt uncomfortable and insecure about it.

I surprised myself by rattling off a bunch of strategies she could use to get more comfortable with being conspicuous. So here, dear readers, is a cheat sheet for how to stop caring about what strangers think about you.

This is, of course, just strategies for your perceptions of people looking at you. This list doesn’t address the real danger of homophobic, transphobic, misogynist, femmephobic, ageist, sizist, antisemetic, racist, anti-erotic street harassers and jerks out there. For my readers out there blooming as the gorgeous weirdo flowers you are I send a lot of love and protective energy to you.

1. It’s not about you.

I like to remember that everyone in the world is running their own race. What that means is that everyone is on their own journey and you don’t actually know what’s going on in their mind. We’re all living in a beligerent society that commodifies insecurity. It teaches us to hate ourselves and our bodies. When I was at my most insecure, I rarely paid attention to anyone else except if it was in a way that I would put my own self down.

I would hazard to guess that most folks who you think are looking at you aren’t actually noticing you. And if they are noticing you and passing judgment or having thoughts about you, it doesn’t affect your value one bit.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to work on your own value internally. How much you are worth isn’t decided by the woman standing behind you at Starbucks who won’t stop looking at you. Even if she is judging you, which she might not be, her scowl could just be about how she’s not sure she can actually afford to pay her light bill and she’s wondering if this latte is a good idea.

If you’re familiar with the Four Agreements, I like to remember the second agreement in times like this. “Don’t take anything personally.”

2. Pretend they are thinking you are beautiful.

I read a tweet from Our Lady J that changed my life. She said something to the effect of pretending like the people staring at her were thinking she was beautiful. So many people might be looking at you because you’re beautiful but you might not have the ability to agree with them so you’re assuming it’s a negative judgment when it might actually be something positive.

I really like the call to assuming people’s best intentions and an affirmation of your own beauty if you can go there. And also, sometimes negative body comments are a way of masking folks’ own discomfort at finding nonconformative bodies attractive. That is really complicated for people.

Our_Lady_J_8Photo of Our Lady J by Santiago Felipe.

3. Remove your judgments about other people.

I believe true change on a global level starts from the personal. If you can transform the way you think it will help transform the world. I think this is true for how you feel about other people.

I used to comment internally on people’s bodies. I grew up wildly focused on my own body. Now I work hard to be really neutral with myself about my own body, but I had to stop my internal chatter about other people’s bodies before I could apply it to myself. When I found myself saying, “That person is thin, I wish I was more like that,” I would stop myself and remind myself of my core value: All bodies are good bodies.

We live in a society that teaches us that it is okay to pass judgment and value other bodies in hierarchical ways. The media is constantly critiquing people’s bodies and appearance–it’s so difficult to step away from that programming!

If you can replace criticism with compassion for other people it will transform the way you feel about yourself. Once I started learning more about how to apply compassion in my own life (I talk about this in the April write-up with Empowering Astrology) I mellowed out a lot and cared much less about what other people were thinking about me.

13416539085_5c6b735962_zDara’s alien as it started to fade.

4. Work on your own perception of yourself.

From about age 8-13 I was bullied relentlessly. I absorbed those terrible things kids and adults said about me and my body. I became the worst bully of myself and started a constant internal chatter of criticism. I believed those things. It took years and years of choosing to rearrange my thoughts to not berate myself.

Accepting and then eventually loving myself took a lot of time and intention on how to think about my body and then eventually my own self worth. There are a million strategies for this (I offer body liberation coaching to help folks work on loving their bodies), but one of my favorites is below.

Piggybacking on removing judgment about other people in number 3 above, is removing your own judgment. Often we look for things to reinforce the thoughts we already have. Our thoughts are incredibly powerful. When you walk around thinking about how awful your body is, that is what you reinforce with your thoughts about what other people are thinking about you–a toxic feedback loop!

Instead, try replacing your negative thoughts with positive affirmations. The deal with affirmations is that they are statements that may not be true in the present but that you will eventually begin to believe the truth of. (See Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life.)

Some good affirmations that you can splice into your thoughts when you get caught up berating your own body or worrying about what other people think of you are:

I approve of myself.
All bodies are good bodies.
I love myself.
My body is wonderful.
I am beautiful and smart and that is how everyone sees me.

5. Wear sunglasses.

As a nightlife performer in New York City–where venues with proper dressing rooms are a luxury–I have had to learn how to not worry about people openly staring at me because I’m wearing a weird costume and a lot of make-up. Once, on the way to the Dyke March wearing a Wonder Woman costume I put on a pair of sunglasses and I decided that if I couldn’t really see other people they couldn’t really see me. It worked, I stopped caring that much about whether people were looking at me.

6. Fake it till you make it.

This is also a great strategy for learning to love your body. It’s just acting like it doesn’t bother you when people look at you. Maybe it still does but if you pretend to yourself and maybe to other people that it doesn’t bother you, you’ll start to believe it.

13133225584_0696c9b086_zDoing Chemo karaoke.

It’s taken me many years to get over people’s perceptions of me. Ultimately, I know if what I am doing, wearing, writing about, living is in alignment with my core values, I know I approve of myself. And that’s the most important thing to me, being a person who knows who I am and lives that life authentically–no matter how people judge my body or my lifestyle.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Thankyou for writing this, its really a self esteem boost, the last year or so I’ve had people staring and passing judgement or whispering something to there friend and laughing when you know exactly that its about you, People make mistakes and learn, I was so carried away with work and friends just life in genral having fun and was not taking care of my skin, sun damage, pimples, pores and loss of collagen just at the age of 21 all came at once My face totally changed and in a bad way so now I always have those side eyes or full on staring to the point I start sweating and get nervous and angry even if it’s just a tiny look, because people look shocked and disgusted by my face but this has helped me now to the way I go about things, and just pretend they are thinking your beautiful 🙂 they dont matter

  2. I have physical disability and people are staring at me , sometimes I dislike that , but just with small changing I accepted the situation totally ; I think people are staring me because I represent the symbol of will , they are consider me as a tough girl who fight to walk and that’s honour by itself
    100% this is true, people are respecting me and told me that I bring optimism and strength every time they see me

  3. Thank you so much for this! I have always worn sunglasses to “hide” my eyes so others couldn’t look me in the eye. I often see people who look like they are judging me because of my short hair and lack of femininity. I’ve got a daughter as well so they are probably wondering about my sexuality and how I have a child looking butch. I feel I have finally stepped into my identity but I’m really uncomfortable with all the stares. This was a much needed read today! I love the four agreements and Louise Hay.

  4. I live in a small backwoods town in Kentucky. I have always been stared at for my height 6’3″ and my weight. All this starring and judgement passed on my body since before I can remember took a huge toll on my self-esteem. To reach the perfect weight and achieve acceptance from people I became bulimic and an addict to speed. I let people rip my confidence apart. I could not stand living in this body. I felt worthless so I would cut my body with razor blades and would sleep with any man that would throw attention my way.
    It was this way from the time I was 18 until I got pregnant at 23. Once I became pregnant I decided that my life would affect this little person’s life forever and I needed to get it together for him. My son helped me to see beauty is only skin deep and what really matters is how you treat people and the love that is in your life. After I had my son I met my husband.
    My husband has helped me see myself in a different light. He tells me I am beautiful everyday even though I gained 50 lbs after I had our soon. I love my family and I am finally happy I life. Since I live in a town that is small and full of ignorant people my family gets starred at every time we step out of the house. I’m tall, he’s short, I’m white, he’s black, I’m fat, he’s skinny but we love each other and we love our family!
    I am so proud of my family that I do become offended when these hateful ignorant people stare and whisper about my family just because we are not the typical white, tall man, short wife family. I try to ignore the dirty looks and loud whispers but I really just do not understand why?!? Why do people care so much about how I live my life and why does my family’s presence offend THEM? I guess I will never understand that type of hatefulness.

  5. I have severe anxiety and I hate it when people stare at me. I was made fun of a lot because I was fat. Now I am average weight and still feel obese in my mind. I am going to try your tips. There is a pair of $10 sunglasses I have been wanting but felt guilty spending that much on sunglasses. Your article talked me into buying them next time I go to town. Neighbors usually stare at me since I live in an apartment especially kids stare at me. When it comes to staring kids are worse than adults.

    I do think the sunglasses idea works. Michael Jackson wore them so he wouldn’t have to look anybody in the eye & so people couldn’t see what he was looking at. He said it was for privacy. After reading your article I got to thinking if the sunglasses worked for Michael Jackson than why not for me.

    Maybe if they see I don’t care they stare at me they will stop staring at me.

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