Public Humiliation: What Was The First Time You Felt Really Embarrassed In Front Of A Lot Of People?

We'll tell you ours if you tell us yours.
Publish date:
August 12, 2014
embarrassment, public humiliation

Public embarrassment isn't much of an issue for me. (Perhaps you could already guess that from my ever-growing collection of candid xoJane essays.) I haven't always been the unblushing type, though.

As a little kid, I was hide-behind-mom's-leg shy; in adolescence, and probably into a decent chunk of early adulthood, I cared a lot about what people thought of me. But while I, like so many people, still like a healthy dose of validation (retweet me!), I realized in the last decade or so that I probably wouldn't do my best writing if I was afraid of looking stupid.

Recently, something triggered the memory of the first time I felt humiliated in public. I was in first grade -- still prime shyness age -- and there was an assembly at my elementary school about Abraham Lincoln, featuring an actor portraying the president. He talked about Lincoln's life in first-person, and then invited students to ask him questions.

My shyness was suddenly outweighed by the excitement of putting two pieces of a puzzle together. See, there was a department store my mother had been taking me to my whole life: A&S. She had recently told me that A&S stood for Abraham & Straus, and it all suddenly clicked in my six-year-old brain. I raised my hand in what had been the bravest moment of my life thus far, and Abraham Lincoln called on me.

"Was your vice president named Straus?"

All of the teachers, some of the fourth and fifth graders, and Lincoln himself laughed at my question. I didn't know why they were laughing, but I knew I had said something stupid.

Fake Abe informed me that his vice presidents were named Hamlin and Johnson, which I had to look up just now because my face had been too full of throbbing blood to retain what he told me.

Recalling this experience made me curious about other xoJane editors' first time feeling embarrassed in public. Here's what they shared:


I was a black cat wearing a leotard in the front row of the third grade play. It was in front of the entire school and PTA. I had needed to P before we went on stage but didn't want to make people late because I had to take off my whole leotard and tights to be able to P, so I held it in until the middle of the opening number, which is as long as I could hold it in, at which time I spread my legs and peed in front of everyone.

That's my story. And I don't know why Siri spells PEE that way.


I was called on as a volunteer at Sea World -- AWESOME! But the trainer did a bit where he told me to get ready to jump on the killer whale's back when he swam back around. I was all poised and ready to jump and then he was like, "Just kidding" and everybody in the audience laughed at me.

More proof that Sea World is evil.


I remember my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, telling everyone to watch as Little Amanda would really show how it was done with multiplication tables (because I had impressed her with my math skills at an earlier point). She called me up to the blackboard. I froze. I started stress-crying. She told me to turn off the waterworks. It was mortifying.


First day of school, either kindergarten or first grade, my parents were dropping me off. A ton of other kids (INCLUDING INTIMIDATING OLDER ONES OH NOOOO) and their parents were hanging around outside the school chatting, making intros and the like. For no solid reason I can remember, I thought it was a fine time to show off my latest much-practiced skill: walking backwards. Obviously, I crashed to the pavement 20 seconds later. Exciting times!


In seventh grade I got my period right before gym class and was reluctant for some reason to ask a teacher for a pad, so instead I stuffed a bunch of toilet paper down my pants. Fast forward to stretching on the blacktop: I bent my knees, a hunk of bloody toilet paper fell on the ground, I looked up to meet the horrified eyes of at least five male classmates.

I was VERY popular in middle school, yes.


One week, in kindergarten, I laid all of my outfits out for the entire week. One of them was a frilly dress with patent shoes, a hat, and a handkerchief. That was Tuesday's dress, and Tuesday was gym. I had forgotten about that. I basically couldn't do anything during gym and the boys kept telling me they were going to see my underwear.


When I was in seventh grade, I sneezed in class -- and farted at the same time. I wanted to quit school and die.


I puked all over myself while sitting at my desk in the first grade, and again at a theme park in the eighth grade, but I don't remember ever being embarrassed, just wanting to change my clothes.


So, I don't know about the FIRST time I humiliated myself in public, because I do that on a regular basis, but earlier this week I laughed so hard that I vomited during game night, which was SUPER-fun. Especially the split-second pause between everyone thinking I was just coughing and the moment when they realised that I was actually puking into my cup, not taking a sip of water out of it. #rockstar

Your turn! What was your first experience with public humiliation? Has it stuck with you all these years?