Handling Staring

There is a difference between the inquisitive looks we all give each other when we first meet someone and outright staring; unfortunately, most people with a visible difference are all too familiar with people staring in curiosity or surprise. Staring can be difficult and uncomfortable, even distressing or offensive if it carries on.

It can help to try to understand why people stare – and this will help you to explain the staring to yourself. Not everyone will have met someone with your condition, mark or scar before – and most of us are naturally curious when we see something or someone different. People often look longer than usual without realising they are doing this, to make sense of what they are seeing. People might stare or double-take or turn away because they are surprised, uncomfortable or unsure how to act.

Most people are not being ‘deliberately’ hurtful. Remembering this may reassure you. Maybe you could think of a time you were interested, shocked or surprised by someone’s different appearance – it’s possible you were also curious and looked for longer than usual.

There are a number of ways you can respond to staring:

Help the person to become aware of their staring

  • Look back, smile and hold the other person’s gaze briefly. Most people will smile back and then look away
  • Look back, smile or nod to show them you have noticed – this may also break the ice
  • For more persistent ‘starers’, look back and hold their gaze whilst raising your eyebrows as an acknowledgement that you’ve noticed their staring
  • If the staring continues, frown to tell them you are not happy.

It is possible to control a social situation where you find people are staring just simply by smiling or saying ‘hi’. I work in a shop and find that most people smile back, reply and actually realise that you are ‘normal’. Others will continue with what I consider to be hostile behaviour, which can be upsetting, but I just think what a waste of time they are! (Yes – we have opinions too!)


Decide not to respond

You might notice someone staring at you and decide that you are not going to respond to them. You don’t have to see not responding as a sign of ‘letting them get away with it’, it is your power to choose how you will respond to others.

Move away

You may decide to move away from the person who is staring because you do not feel comfortable.

Reassure yourself

How you respond to staring is up to you. You may respond in different ways depending on the situation and how you are feeling at that time. Using reassuring self-talk can help to manage your feelings about people staring as it can be upsetting sometimes. You will find your own, but here are some examples of phrases you might say to yourself:

  • They are just curious, maybe they know someone who has the same condition.
  • 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, I don’t need to spend energy thinking about someone staring at me
  • Staring is rude and I don’t need to talk to someone who is being rude
  • I am more than my appearance
  • Try a phrase or a motto to say to yourself – I am ok, I am unique, I have lots of positive qualities

Preparing responses

It can be helpful to prepare some responses in advance.

Try the exercises below and write your answers down or make a note in your phone/tablet/laptop.

Your eldest child has just started school. You arrive to collect him early. Several other parents are there – you become aware that one mother is staring at you. What might you do and say? Try to think of three kinds of answer, varying your reaction.  Remember, this is someone you are likely to come across many times and you need to be able to meet her without embarrassment in the future.

A simple response indicating that you would like her not to stare. What would you do? What would you say?

A response indicating the issue lies with her. What would you do? What would you say?

A response that might provide a distraction or diversion. What would you do? What would you say?

Think about a person staring who you are unlikely to meet again. What could you say?

If the person continued staring, how might you be more assertive?

What if the person staring is someone you meet regularly?  What could you say?

You might like to think of different situations that you could come across and prepare your responses in advance for those too.

Although this might feel a bit challenging to think about at first, it will get easier. Lots of people find it useful to have thought through their responses beforehand.

Handling comments


Handling staring


More people are using Changing Faces services than ever before. We want to be here for everyone affected by with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different.

We’ve made all our services, factsheets and information free for everyone. It takes time and money to do this, but we think it is really important.

That’s why I hope you’ll understand why we need to ask for your help. If you’ve found our website or services helpful, and your circumstances allow, then please consider donating. Every penny counts and you can give at www.changingfaces.org.uk/donate Thank you.