What to do if people stare because you look different

It can be upsetting when you notice people staring at you. We look at why people stare and how you can cope with it.

There is a difference between looking at people when we meet them, and staring. If you have visible difference, you might have noticed people staring at you. This can be difficult and upsetting.

On this page, we explore why people stare and what you can do to help you cope with it.

It’s fine to look because I know I look different, but please don’t keep on staring; come and ask me if you really want to know why I look the way I do.

Sam

Why do people stare?

It can help to understand why people stare. Often, it is because of curiosity. We are all curious when we see something new or someone different.

Not everyone will have met or seen someone who has a visible difference before. This can make them look at you for longer than normal. People often do this by accident, without meaning to.

Try and think of a time when you met someone and were surprised by the way they looked. Did you look at them for longer? This doesn’t make it OK for other people to stare at you, but it can help you understand that usually people aren’t trying to be horrible, rude or hurt your feelings.

Some tips on what you can do when people stare

Help them to realise they are staring

Here are some ways you can let people know that they are staring – and that you know about it:

  • Look at the person and smile. Most people will smile back and then look away.
  • If the person keeps staring, look back at them and raise your eyebrows or tilt your head.
  • If you feel OK about it, you could say something. Try talking to them about something else.

It might feel a bit funny at first, but it can help to practise. Try it out in the mirror – or test it out on your friends and family.

Tyrol was in the lunch queue at school when he noticed the boy behind him staring at his face. He turned around and said, “Urgh, mushy peas again. Good thing Wednesday only comes once a week.” “Yeah,” said the other boy, “Sludgy, gloopy peas.” They both laughed.

Show you’re unhappy if the staring carries on

If the staring carries on and is making you unhappy, you could frown at the other person so they know you are upset.

Choose to ignore staring

You might notice someone staring at you and decide to ignore it. This is OK too. It might be better to do this if you don’t feel comfortable saying something or making eye contact. Ignoring staring doesn’t mean you’re letting the person get away with it. It is your power to decide what to do.

On the bus people would stare at me but I didn’t look at them because I didn’t want to say anything on the bus and have an argument. So I chose to ignore the staring and eventually it would stop.

Kerry

Move away

You might decide to move away from the person staring at you if you feel uncomfortable – for example, by changing seats. This may make the person realise that they have made you feel uncomfortable. Hopefully it will stop them doing it again in future.

Reassure yourself

It can sometimes help to say things to yourself that help you feel better. The posh name for this is “positive self-talk”.

You will find your own sentences to say, but here are some examples of things you might say to yourself:

  • “They are just curious.”
  • “Maybe they have never seen someone who looks like me before.”
  • “They may be too nervous to ask me a question.”
  • “I know they are staring but I am going to choose to think about something else.”
  • “Staring is rude and I don’t need to talk to someone who is being rude.”
  • “I am more than how I look.”

I have decided not to cover up my birthmark as much because at the end of the day that’s how I look and it’s who I am. I don’t really see why I should change myself for other people – if they stare it’s their problem not mine.

Sophie

Try a phrase or a motto to say to yourself. For example, “I am OK,” “I am special,” or “I have lots of positive things about me”. You could also remind yourself of something you are good at. Take a look at our confidence tools for more ways of building your confidence.

Prepare your response

It can help to think about things you might do or say if someone stares at you. That way, you will feel ready if it happens.

Have a look at our tools for handling other people’s reactions for some techniques you can learn so you’re well prepared for people staring.

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