What’s the Deal with Elizabeth Holmes ‘Never Blinking’?

The disgraced CEO is famous for her intense unbroken eye contact with everyone (including potential jurors). But why (and how?) would someone do this?
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
Founder & CEO of Theranos Elizabeth Holmes attends the Forbes Under 30 Summit at Pennsylvania Convention Center on October 5, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Gilbert Carrasquillo | Getty Images

Former Theranos CEO and girlboss parable Elizabeth Holmes is a woman with a laundry list of signature looks. There’s the “rhymes with Neve Bobs” black turtleneck, and, of course, that hair. But one of her signature looks has nothing to do with aesthetic choice and is, in fact, quite literal: her well-documented habit of making unbroken eye contact with potential investors, with employees, with journalists during interviews, and, according to a CNBC report, every potential juror in her ongoing criminal fraud case. John Carreyrou, the journalist who wrote the exposé that made her infamous, called Holmes’s gaze “hypnotic,” adding that “the way she trained her big blue eyes on you without blinking made you feel like the center of the world.” Henry Kissinger called her “ethereal” in a 2014, pre-scandal New Yorker profile. (The author of that profile, Ken Auletta, also noted that she “rarely blinks.”) Cheryl Gafner, who worked as a receptionist at Theranos, described the habit in less horny terms in a documentary on Holmes: “She didn’t blink,” Gafner said.   


Like Holmes, I’m an ambitious young woman with huge eyes who’s a hit with older men. And, like a lot of people, I find her an object of intense curiosity; what’s better than watching someone who’s so serious lie so much? And all of the ongoing comments about her mesmerizing, unblinking eyes—typically framed as part of her powerful charisma, the thing that helped her (allegedly) fool Walgreens and bilk millions of dollars out of investors—made me wonder: Is this a unique feature of her biology, or a real thing someone would do on purpose? Is it even possible to not blink for extended periods of time??? (And how much time between blinks are we talking about here?) And if she does train that stare on purpose, what could she possibly be after? 

In 2019, con artist expert Maria Konnikova told The Cut that Holmes’s blinking (and lack thereof) doesn’t say much about her level of honesty, despite speculation at the time from outside commentators. “People have different physiological baselines. There are no generalizations you can make; it all needs to be specific to the person,” Konnikova said. “If her employees are saying she never blinks, then I’m guessing her physiology is just such that she doesn’t blink as often as other people.” 


Sure, some of us aren’t big blinkers. (Some of us may have even been lightly mocked in elementary school for staring “too much,” but I digress.) And yeah, obviously her lack of blinking isn’t definitive proof that she’s lying. But there’s gotta be a more-than-zero possibility that her infrequent blinking isn’t something she was born with.

Tinfoil hat time: I think the key here is the fact that Steve Jobs, deceased Apple CEO and Holmes’s idol, also made memorable, prolonged eye contact with his employees, which apparently added to his general charisma as a leader. A 2017 piece from Inc. Magazine even called Jobs’s penchant for deep eye contact “the one body language habit that made Steve Jobs really successful.” Surely a woman who thought dressing like Steve Jobs was the best route up the corporate ladder would probably study his mannerisms as well. Could it be that her lack of blinking stems from a clumsy attempt to emulate her idol?


If Holmes is doing it on purpose, she’s almost certainly self-taught. There’s virtually no information available online oriented toward teaching yourself not to blink—the closest thing to a YouTube tutorial is a meandering video about how to “Attract Women With Strong Eye Contact,” which probably wouldn’t work on, say, Henry Kissinger. Still, Holmes might believe that her unbroken gaze makes her more powerful and more convincing, in the style of Jobs or other renowned non-blinkers. In a 2004 Salon piece about then-presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark, who apparently freaked everyone out on the campaign trail with his lack of blinks, “well-known mentalist and stage hypnotist” Christopher Carter said the following about the effects of a long stare:

"Being stared at is a very intimate act, and whether someone taught Clark to not blink or he knows it instinctively, he certainly could have a lot of control over other people's behavior. Although eye contact has fallen out of favor with hypnotists, you'll find that the eyes play a big role in the folklore of hypnosis. Svengali, after all, was a hypnotist, and he was often depicted with lightning bolts coming out of his eyes.”

(Weirdly enough, there’s been speculation that Holmes’s lawyers will use the “Svengali defense,” arguing that she acted in the thrall of her ex and former company president Sunny Balwani, at trial.) 

According to Usiwoma Abugo, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there are some proven downsides to a stare like Holmes’s. While Abugo only answered general questions about blinking, she did suggest that adopting the “unblinking gaze” method of sealing deals and selling scams could lead to some unpleasant side effects. “The primary purpose of the blink reflex is for the protection of the surface of the eye,” she told VICE. “This directly ties into the three main reasons people blink: to prevent foreign bodies from entering the eye, to clear away any particles that may have gotten into the eyes, and to keep the surface of the eye moisturized. Blinking is an important part of keeping your eyes healthy, so ophthalmologists don’t recommend anyone try to blink less often than what feels natural.” 

Abugo also said keeping your eyes open unnaturally long could lead to “dry eye” symptoms, including “pain, stinging or burning, a scratchy or gritty feeling in the eye, or blurry vision,” and that any condition (self-imposed or not) could have long-term effects like “exposure of the eye surface (lagophthalmos) leading to loss of vision.” So, while this habit might work in the short-term (when you’re trying to convince FDA inspectors that your lab is legit, let’s say), it’s probably not the best move in the long term.

Not only is it not worth emulating Holmes’s more overt business practices (faking data, lying to investors), the best choice for your eye health is to avoid copying her blinking habits too. But don’t worry—you can still pop on a turtleneck and some thick eyeliner when you’re in the mood to gaslight and gatekeep with the best of ’em.