Monday, October 28, 2013

What it feels like to be stared at in public

I’ve been stared at by men and women alike in public.  It’s an odd thing, catching the eye of someone observing the way I walk.  When it’s a woman, she’s usually elderly and experiencing some kind of mobility issue herself.  There’s this weird moment of one-upmanship where she glances at me from head to toe, giving a nod that says, Yes, we’re both struggling to move, but at least I didn’t look like you in my 20s!  I’m winning!

The occasions where men have stared at me have been a different experience.

It happened once in college at a party when a man looked at me and demanded, “Are you limping!?” and continued to stare until I gave him an answer.  I wanted to throw my milk in his face.

It happened when I took my first doctoral course at Bethel University.  I stepped off an elevator to witness a man watch me walk down the hall.  I turned and caught him in the act.  He gulped and turned red. 

It happened last April while walking into a coffee shop.  I thought the man going in the door was checking me out as I walked toward him.  I could feel his eyes on me.    As I got nearer, I realized he was gawking at the way I walk---then I watched him frown.  What he saw was disappointing.

In that moment, I wanted to say all kinds of angry things, but, I said nothing. I let him open the door for me, and watched him find a table, where he proceeded to pull out his big bible and concordance.

Being stared at is like being stared through.  Only the shell of your being is seen; your soul goes unnoticed.  It hurts.  It cuts in a way that leaves a mark.  It makes you want to stay inside, stay home, and stay single!  It challenges you to believe that what you have to offer the world is unwelcome.

Even though you know you’re valuable, you feel you’ve just been appraised and found lacking.  Even though you are loved by many people in your life, you go home and ask dark questions, “Does everyone look at me this way; are some just better at hiding it than others?”  “Am I always going to be disappointing?”  “What is it about me that needs to change?”

All of these painful experiences of being stared at in public have taught me this:

How we see each other matters. 

Looks can pierce. They can also heal.

You and I get to decide what role we’re going to play.

Perhaps one of the most powerful gifts we can ever give away is to love someone with our eyes—to make eye contact and smile.  Being seen in a way that acknowledges the soul can change a person.  Some of the pain of the past can melt.  When a person sees eyes staring back at them, reflecting love, not disappointment, they realize they are safe to be themselves, even when all of their flaws are on display.  It gives them courage to believe that what they have to offer the world is not only welcome, but a much richer place because of it.

Let’s love each other well.  Let’s do it with our eyes.

Photo Credit


  1. Just today my mom was telling me to stand up straight when I walk into a room, instead of seeming to sink into myself. I'm really struggling with getting to a point where my insecurities about what others think of how I look doesn't control my whole demeanor while out in public. It's hard.

    I hate that people stare. I'm sorry for all the people who have stared at you. But I also know that not everyone is looking at you that way...I think there are quite a few people who see you for the amazing, strong person you are instead of just the way you walk. You just have to find them. :)

    I love what you said about loving people with our eyes...I'm going to start making a conscious effort to do just that. Thank you for yet another beautiful post.

  2. As always, you are such a source of encouragement Claire! Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

  3. Jenny, your sweet spirit always shines through - in your beautiful smile, in the way you deal with people openly and honestly, in how your love for the Lord comes through loud and clear.

    I'm sad people are so unable to see beyond our physical shell. There's so much more to all of us than what we can see. This is true for everyone we pass on the street or in the hall. We make instant decisions when we see someone with physical or mental issues, a homeless person, anyone who is "different" from us. We don't have a clue who they really are, what they've been through but we can sure be quick to pass judgment.

    I'm as guilty as the next person in making snap assumptions about people. Thanks for the reminder to look beyond the obvious and find what's real. You are a blessing.

    1. Thank you for your kind remarks Stacy! I think you make a great point here that even if we don't stare, we often make silent judgements about other people. I am guilty of this too. Perhaps this is why we are commanded to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It's takes our whole being. Thanks for reading.