Unashamedly Ashamed

S H A M E  by Linda Zhengová (Prague) is a photographic series on vulnerability and how it manifests itself.

When I’m ashamed, I feel the heat rise to my face and a cold sweat forming on my nose and back. I also perceive the time differently, as if everything gets slower… and I always wish I could disappear. I was surprised that other people experience shame completely different than I do.

I wanted to explore the different physiological experiences shame might bring. I hope to shed light on shame as something rather real and human, that isn’t necessarily negative. It connects us all. It’s a feeling to dissect, to deconstruct, to dig deep into. I took portraits of people against a clinical blue background as I asked them how and when they felt shame. I then used my microscopic USB camera to zoom in on them and capture a detailed shot of their body.


I didn’t have to think about any particularly shameful moment as I already feel ashamed when I’m having my picture taken or when I am the center of attention.


A shameful moment I can think of was when I moved to the U.S. and I just entered elementary school. The first day I brought my Japanese lunch box to school and everyone was staring at my lunch. From the next day on I brought in sandwiches instead.


The shameful moment I was thinking about was when me and my girlfriend had frequent fights before we decided to part ways. Often these fights took place in a public environment. I always felt embarrassed to have to hold these discussions in public as I don’t really like drawing attention to myself because then I feel as if the spotlight is directed at me. I feared that the pressure would make the situation go out of hand – to shouting and drama… It felt like there was no sense of control.


I always feel inadequate and there have been many moments in my life where that feeling was heightened. I only had to recall how I felt at such times and how much I wanted to cover and hide myself.


When I was 9 years old I saw this commercial on the television for a ringtone – I really liked this one song by the Black Eyed Peas called ‘Boom Boom Pow’. It only cost 3 euros, so I bought it, and ignored the small print about subscriptions. When I received the ringtone on my phone it turned out to be only the chorus and I was bummed. A month passed by and suddenly my dad was standing in front of me with a really high phone bill. He asked me all these questions: ‘how come your phone bill is this high?’ ‘who have you been calling?’ Of course, immediately I thought of the ringtone, but I pretended I didn’t knew. I will never forget this day. I was so ashamed I spend my dad’s money on something this horrible and I didn’t even tell him! Eventually I told him, and he wasn’t angry at me at all…


Shamefulness is a feeling all too familiar to me. I’ve felt it through different situations – making a fool out of myself in front of people, twisting my tongue during speaking, or just getting reminded of a specific cringe worthy moment. But the worst kind of shame is the one felt out of disappointing somebody.

I feel a wave of cold shivers starting from the top of my head down to my toes. My vision gets shaky, blurry, as my pupils dilate. I feel my pores open up, as they start secluding sweat to cool me down. The hairs on my arms stand upright, and my skin forms a relief of goosebumps. I take a deep breath in, deep breath out. I shrug the shame off, but my body urges otherwise.

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How does your body react when you feel ashamed?

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