Maintaining composure in face of an extremely beautiful person.
May 12, 2024 7:41 PM   Subscribe

I lose my voice when anxious but just had an experience of losing it when overtaken by awe. Quick summary: I went to a singing recital of a graduating student because they were singing songs celebrating my ethnicity (in language my grandmother spoke). The performance was amazing and very meaningful to me (lots of crying). It was a small recital room and I did briefly notice the singer was attractive, but didn't obsess about it. Then...

At the end, someone introduced me to the singer and I lost my breath because I really couldn't believe it was the same person, she was so intimidatingly beautiful up-close. I tried to focus on expressing my appreciation (and not objectifying her), but it was a losing battle and I'm left feeling like I slightly marred her triumphant evening (if anything, she looked concerned that this weird guy in front of her might be having a seizure.).
In part to address my guilt, can anyone suggest a way to manage and maintain one's composure in this sort of situation? There was nothing on the line for me (she's 30 years younger, so no question of romance), it literally was more like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

(P.s., a slight complication was that I spoke to this couple who introduced me to her about whether they thought she might be interested in doing a benefit concern. I realized after "the incident" that it's possible they said to her "we want to introduce you to this guy who has a question for you" and the singer kept waiting for me to ask her something which I totally forgot about while I was in the throes of her beauty.
posted by Jon44 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You may be suffering from Stendhal Syndrome, whereby one is overwhelmed and faints at the sight of great beauty, whether a view, a painting, or a beautiful person.

As long as your tongue doesn't unroll to the floor, your eyes don't stretch out of their sockets and you don't start screaming "Ah-Hoogah!" like a cartoon, it's not that unusual, just annoying.

Next time, you'll know what it is and you can meet the next beautiful thing/person with a bit more composure, or simply will know to avoid attempting a witty conversation. Maybe arrange to speak with them on the phone, or use an intermediary to convey your thoughts?

Don't beat yourself up about it.....
posted by Bigbootay. Tay! Tay! Blam! Aargh... at 9:11 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]

Notice how much of your reaction is projection about what the other person might be thinking?

It's possible that was accurate, but it's also possible that she didn't notice your reaction because she was preoccupied with her own stuff, or that she thought your reaction was endearing.

Some thoughts that might help:

"other people's opinion of me is none of my business"

And why do you default to assuming the worst possible interpretation of another person's thoughts?

I mean, really, why?

Do you feel safer by pre emptively judging yourself, because being blindsided by unexpected judgement would be worse?

Is it about discomfort with uncertainty? "I'd rather believe they think the worst of me, than not know what they think?"

Are *you* privately harsh and judgemental towards others, so you assume others are the same?

Is the self judgement really coming from a person in your past, like a parent or a teacher? Who should have nurtured you, but judged you instead?

And lastly, why do you feel it's wrong to admire a person's appearance? It's totally possible to think a person is lovely, sexy, and gorgeous without objectifying them.

Does that thought seem wrong? Why? Dig into the discomfort of that to reveal what's going on.
posted by Zumbador at 10:10 PM on May 12 [12 favorites]

Really really beautiful are quite stunning. We just see average people, and even a really cute person has nothing on a movie star. When you see a movie star up close it’s something else. I ran into a c-lister (think late season 90210 / the OC type) just by chance and chatted an bit and they were remarkably gorgeous. I remember thinking “you are way too good looking I must be missing something”

A few tips
- you have nothing to give them and they have nothing to give you. Say I meet Taylor swift. What could she possibly do for me, really? Pay my mortgage? Call my boss and tell him what exactly? I’m not in the biz, she’s not in mine, there’s nothing we can feasibly do for each other. If I’m angling otherwise then I need to examine that really… do I have latent ego issues or whatever.
- aforementioned self esteem - know who you are and your worth and be comfortable in it. You are both even in the eyes of God.
- it’s ok to find someone stunningly beautiful. You don’t have to hide it or over compensate for it, that can cause the brain overload. Instead you can just appreciate the beauty as you would the Grand Canyon.
- I remember a funny joke about beautiful people - the never know what other people’s faces look like because all they see is (mimes a person quickly turning their head away to avoid being seen having looked at them)

I'm left feeling like I slightly marred her triumphant evening

I mean don’t be so hard on yourself but also don’t be full of yourself - your small pause probably didn’t register for her outside of the moment and she probably quickly forgot about it. So shake it off no worries.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:47 PM on May 12 [6 favorites]

I have talked to many, many people after performances (though unfortunately I am not anywhere in the realm of stunningly beautiful). People sometimes get a bit tongue-tied and say slightly dumb things or don't know what to say. As long as you are not actively saying something rude or mean to them, it's all good. Anything vaguely in the direction of showing appreciation, which it sounds like you were, all OK.

Sometimes the performer can get kind of tongue tied and, also, say somewhat dumb things. Or just get distracted or are not quite "there" in the moment because they are kind of amped up. It's actually a moment of pretty high emotions - which, to make things worse, are starting to come down just right then - and, also, this happens the end of a long event and everyone is a bit tired.

Having an overwhelming emotional impact on people is pretty much what you are hoping and dreaming about as a performer. That's the dream. However, no one expects people to be fully articulate at such moments. A bit of hemming and hawing and being unable to put what you are feeling into words is exactly par for the course.

So I wouldn't worry about that part of it at all.

As to your question regarding how to deal with this: "I lost my breath because I really couldn't believe it was the same person, she was so intimidatingly beautiful up-close". My only thought is it is OK to feel emotions and to some extent they are almost like external things that are beyond our conscious control.

But: We don't always need to act on every emotion we feel. Sometimes - most of the time, even - we put on a kind of a facade and continue to act normal. It is, in a way, putting on an act.

It's also the way every adult deals with everyday emotions - even quite strong emotions. We're not continually just bursting out in tears every time we get the slightest bit frustrated or shouting, screaming, yelling, and breaking things every time we get a little bit angry.

So if this reaction were bothering me I would spend some time rehearsing to myself how I am going to think and act when put into that situation. Imagine yourself acknowledging to yourself that strong emotion you are feeling but also breathing, remaining centered, becoming more aware of your body and surroundings, but also continuing to act and speak calmly and normally.

Have a couple of pre-rehearsed "normal" things you can say or bring up.

It's a bit like dealing with an issue like stage fright - a strong emotional state that is, on the one hand, perfectly understandable, but on the other hand, can strongly affect your ability to function and perform, and you want to be able to deal with that.

Thinking of it from that perspective, here are a couple of resources that might help 1 2. Googling "dealing with stage fright" will bring up dozens more.

Coming at it from that direction, an idea to consider is that we can channel the strong emotions we feel to help achieve better and more focused performance. So it's not so much a matter of burying the emotions you feel 1000 feet deep where you hope to never see them again. Rather, you channel them to something that (in part) drives your performance.

Another tip, coming from that direction, is to deliberately put yourself into similar situations and practice your reactions under that type of pressure. A musician for example will typically have dozens and dozens of practice performances in front of small audiences, and "dress rehearsal" type run-throughs. All that builds the skills you need to deal with the "real" performance when it finally comes along.
posted by flug at 11:33 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]

Would it help to know that, through a friend, I have made brief acquaintance of someone who is celebrated for their beauty, and whose name and likeness are well known simply because of their beauty and nothing else, and this person is truly one of the most self-centered and egotistical people I've ever met, someone who is nonchalantly cruel to others without seeing the harm they caused? Obviously, not all beautiful people are assholes but anyone who is regularly admired for something that takes no effort and for which they can take no credit will eventually start to think of themselves as special and it's a quick road from feeling special to believing you are always right.
posted by janey47 at 11:55 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

Don't worry, she'll be well accustomed to that sort of reaction.

You'll feel a lot better about the experience if you turn it into an amusing anecdote/short standup comedy bit, exaggerating your own facial expressions and thought processes during the encounter (your post is already halfway there).
posted by Grunyon at 2:33 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]

Neurodivergent people can also struggle with this kind of reaction
posted by Jacen at 6:17 AM on May 13

Reiterating that what you describe doesn't sound like a terrible gaffe or anything that reflects poorly on you.

In response to, "can anyone suggest a way to manage and maintain one's composure in this sort of situation?"

Maintaining composure is a skill that can be learned, but it is an uncomfortable skill to learn when your "lack of composure" is driven or exacerbated by anxiety. The physical effects of anxiety increase the difficulty level of maintaining composure.

So, with that in mind, what worked for me was two things: (1) repeated exposure to such situations; and (2) treating my anxiety.

Repeated exposure was easy for me: There is nothing quite like depending on a public-facing service industry job (e.g., retail, fast food, etc) for food and housing when it comes to practicing extemporaneous emotional management. You are exposed to a full range of humanity, good and bad; you have no way to escape (until your shift ends); and if you can't pretend consistently enough to be a neutral-to-nice normal human, you can't pay rent or buy food. To put a positive spin on it: It's a paid master class in maintaining composure (and de-escalating and resolving conflict).

You're not going to drop everything to go work at Starbucks, presumably. But can you put yourself in a situation where, on a regular basis, you need to maintain a certain aspect despite what you, personally, are feeling in the moment? The repetitive nature of retail worked for me because the interactions follow familiar patterns; so there's always another chance to try again if an interaction doesn't go the way you want it to go.

But without concurrent treatment for anxiety, exposure only goes so far. Being activated by anxiety is a miserable feeling, whether the people around you notice or not. I was a friendly and composed retail worker, but I was also an anxious, miserable retail worker. Learning how to manage my anxiety is really what allowed me to integrate those experiences. My self composure doesn't feel like a mask the "real me" wears in public any more. Instead, it feels like a natural part of me that I get to experience now that my system isn't overwhelmed with anxiety.

I hope this is helpful.
posted by ailouros08 at 6:28 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]

The focus on this person's attractiveness* rather than their overall presence is a little icky. You were starstruck in a situation that was especially emotionally loaded for you because of the tie to your personal history, that's what happened. You were overwhelmed.

The way people prevent that is practice - have a script that you have prepared well in advance and rehearsed in a non-emotionally-loaded way. The other thing is to not make this about you, and that includes in your inner narrative as well as in your focus on them as a person.

Spend some time in idle moments practicing (pretending) approaching people with various kinds of power differentials to you: authorities, experts, rich people, gatekeepers, people you really want to impress, people you need something from. It's amazingly handy to have that bit of muscle memory stored up when the real thing happens.

*I mean, I get it. It is startling to be up close with someone truly beautiful even if they just made your coffee and didn't also just fill you with complex emotions through performance, but if you walk through the world with a people-first attitude this may be a thing you notice but it doesn't contribute to overwhelm in the same way.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:33 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]

I worked public-facing jobs for 20+ years, and my current position involves interacting with reasonably powerful people who I may admire or dislike. Over the years, I’ve developed a “face” that I “put on” in these situations that protects me somewhat from the strain. I remind myself that my persona isn’t “me,” and I have this task to do, and it gets me through. Formal manners is a similar idea — you can have any kind of internal reaction you like or need, but that doesn’t affect your polite actions or composure. It gets a bad rap these days as “fake,” but I suppose you could see if there are comportment classes available in your area. Participating in public speaking might help, too, since maintaining a facade is part of that as well.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:11 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Maintaining your composure is the same when faced with beauty or when faced with terror:
Breathe. Breathe deeply at least 5 times before conversing or planning your action. You have an elevated heartrate- you need to bring it down so you can think, act, and communicate rationally.

This is something you can practice at home.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:20 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]

Michelangelo didn't create David or Rodin his nudes as early pornography. It has been well understood by artists throughout history that humans can be exceedingly beautiful and many have spent their entire careers trying to capture that.

So talking to a distractingly beautiful person can be as if you were admiring a work of art and suddenly it came to life and started talking to you. Suddenly there is a person there, with their own history and complications and ugliness and beauty. You're having two experiences simultaneously and it's easy, and common, to get flummoxed.

Of course, one person's experience of stunning beauty may be another's "Yeah, they're cute." So you may have just had a slightly awkward conversation with a perfectly average person. Perhaps that can help take the edge off for you.


Say I meet Taylor swift. What could she possibly do for me, really? Pay my mortgage? Call my boss and tell him what exactly? I’m not in the biz, she’s not in mine, there’s nothing we can feasibly do for each other.

Ick, no. All of us are human and all of us have basic human needs like connection, acceptance, and appreciation. Sometimes it's not the time and place for such things, but we all have very important things to offer one another.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:36 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]

Say I meet Taylor swift. What could she possibly do for me, really? Pay my mortgage?

IDK, humans are social creatures, and meeting Taylor Swift (or any other celebrity) is a story you can tell other people who are your social peers. and some number of them (possibly the majority) will find it cool and moderately interesting. But that does involve cooling your jets to have a decent, nonworshipping talk with them, not expecting to be besties after 2 minutes of talk, and not expecting them to be your fairy godmother.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:08 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Well, in this case you could have your friends contact her and ask the question you never got to ask and while they're at it explain that you got starstruck because the performance was so meaningful to you and you were unexpectedly overwhelmed meeting her in person. I don't even think that's a white lie; I think it's what actually happened. The emotional wallop the singer delivered ("they were singing songs celebrating my ethnicity [in language my grandmother spoke]. The performance was amazing and very meaningful to me [lots of crying])" probably had as much or more to do with your getting tongue tied as the singer's physical beauty.

Okay, sure, maybe if you'd gone through that and then gone to shake hands with the singer and the singer looked like, I dunno, Charlie Daniels and if they'd acted like your jolly next door neighbor welcoming you to his beer 'n' barbecue party you wouldn't have been struck dumb, but you don't actually know that. You were undermined by your emotional response to her performance, and she was in your internal Exalted Angel category already. You got close to her and couldn't talk and later told yourself it was because of how she looked. But it wasn't just that and I submit that you don't really know that it was mostly that or even a little bit that. Don't sell yourself short, IOW. You're not just a hopeless horndog who is going to stumble into clownish incoherence every time he encounters a hottie: it is entirely possible that you were overwhelmed by proximity to her not because of how she looked but because her performance was so powerful.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:59 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]

I am generally able to be comfortable when meeting distractingly beautiful people by remembering that as someone who does not want anything from them, I most likely represent a reprieve over their normal interactions.

Jaw-droppingly hot bartender? Yeah, I'm not gonna hit on you or ogle you, I legitimately just want to know which NA beers you have. Beautiful entertainer/celebrity? Yeah, neat, but we have very different lives and weren't going to end up friends. We can have a pleasant interaction and go our separate ways.

People often want to hit on beautiful people, or ingratiate themselves to them, or treat them as some kind of object lesson about the world or themselves.

You can normalize the interaction by just realizing you do not need anything from them, nor they from you. It doesn't have to be rich with meaning or headed anywhere.

The easiest person in the world to be around is a friendly person who does not want anything from you.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:19 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

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