Having strategies to draw on can also help if you notice people staring at you. In this guide, we share some tips and techniques that may help.
Many people find that one of the biggest challenges of having a visible difference is unwanted attention. You are probably familiar with people commenting on or asking questions about your appearance.
This may make you feel anxious, shy, embarrassed or nervous when out in public or meeting new people – or you may try to avoid these situations altogether.
Having a plan for what to do when someone comments on your appearance or asks you a question can really help. On this page, we take you through some of the tactics you can use in situations like these.
We also have a page on how to handle staring.
Sometimes, people can be rude and unkind. In general, however, when someone asks questions or comments on your appearance, they are being thoughtless rather than malicious. Most people are curious and don’t mean to upset you – they forget to think about how this might make you feel.
Dealing with these reactions day in, day out can be difficult and upsetting, and may mean you feel:
- Judged or criticised by others.
- Embarrassed, ashamed or awkward.
- Anxious and panicky.
- Angry and defensive.
- Self-conscious and conspicuous.
- Lonely and isolated.
- Sad and depressed.
- Worried and scared.
- Unconfident and unsure.
This unwanted attention may mean you feel permanently “on show”. Having a few tricks to pull out of your sleeve when someone comments on your appearance or asks questions can help make things easier.
Let’s start with some techniques you can use to help you handle comments:
If someone is thoughtless, rude or unkind, it can be very tempting to respond angrily. While this is understandable, it is unlikely to help the situation, particularly if they are looking to provoke a reaction from you.
These suggestions focus on ways of disarming and defusing the situation. The aim is to make the other person aware that you heard them while showing that you are strong and resilient.
If the comment seems to be a direct confrontation, it may be best just to walk away, particularly if you feel threatened or concerned. If someone can be unkind enough to make negative comments about your appearance, there is little you can say to change them. Walking away shows that you are in control – you are not going to bother to respond to their bad behaviour because they are not worth your time.
“When people made horrible comments to me about my eyes I would ignore them. I just thought, if they are cruel enough to make comments like this, they aren’t going to take any notice of what I have got to say and they don’t deserve my energy. I also didn’t want them to know they were bothering me so I just carried on with what I was doing.
Afterwards, if I was angry, I would ring my mum or a friend and tell them how angry I was and what I really wanted to say to them! This helped me let out how I felt about it. Sometimes I would just forget about the comment, other times it might bother me for a while, but eventually I would forget about it.
Now I just feel sorry for people who are so unkind they have to make these horrible comments, and I refuse to give their comments any thought. It has taken me a long time to get to this point but now I can just ignore comments and they don’t upset me.”
Plan a response
When someone comments on your appearance, you can respond using body language. The aim is to let the other person know that you are aware of the comment and that you don’t like it:
- Give the person a firm look for around one second and look away again.
- Look at the person and hold their gaze whilst raising your eyebrows to show you have heard their comment.
- Look and frown to tell them you are not happy.
You may feel assertive and safe enough to respond with a reply that disarms the other person or makes them aware they have been hurtful, to stop them doing so in the future:
- “I don’t think it is very nice to say things about someone’s appearance. I doubt you would like it”.
- “I heard what you said about my appearance, and I wanted you to know. It feels like the way I look is a problem for you, which is sad. I don’t have a problem with my appearance”.
If you are really upset when someone comments on your appearance, it may be helpful to use reassuring “self-talk”. Try saying some of these phrases to yourself:
- “This comment is their problem, not mine”.
- “I value people who are friendly and kind. By making these comments this person has demonstrated that they aren’t those things, so I don’t need to place any value on what they think of me”.
- “I would never be unkind enough to say something like that to someone. This person obviously isn’t worth me getting upset over”.
- “I am OK – I don’t need to judge myself based on this person’s unkind comment”.
- “There is more to me than how I look”.
- “The people who know me would never think or say things like that about me”.