a preoccupation over said image leads to undue stress or unhealthy behaviors. As it's such a common human trait, it's only natural that most characters would likewise want to be perceived a certain way — be it a "cool kid," a "tough guy," or a "queen bee" — and would go to some lengths to protect that image.
But what if they have a beloved pastime that, if others were to find out about it, would threaten that image? What if being outed would greatly embarrass them, or their friends and family? What if they fear it would make them total pariahs amongst their social group? These characters have an Embarrassing Hobby.
The Embarrassing Hobby trope covers any example of a hobby that a character attempts to hide from others because having others know about it would greatly embarrass them. It doesn't actually have to be shameful, dangerous, criminal, or perverted; it just has to be some level of embarrassing to the hobbyist. It can also apply to cases where the character actually takes pride in their hobby, but their family and friends are embarrassed for them.
While some Embarrassing Hobbies may be rather out there (like, say, collecting wads of bellybutton lint), most of them tend to be pretty ordinary pastimes that others make fun of for petty reasons. Stamp and coin collecting, while common hobbies, are widely considered "uncool" and boring. Building computers, while a useful (and potentially profitable!) skill, can get you branded a nerd. Some scorn fanfiction for being a foolish waste of time, in between long sessions of carefully filling out their "fantasy football" roster. So the embarrassment doesn't have to be justified by the nature of the hobby itself; it just has to clash with the image the character wishes to project.
While the Embarrassing Hobby trope knows no gender, there are a few differences in what kinds of hobbies each gender might find embarrassing. For example, a male may be embarrassed by hobbies they consider "feminine" even if they are traditionally unisex or even male-dominated (like cookery or the arts), while a female may be inclined to hide their passion for technical or scientific hobbies, if only to spare herself from snide comments. While some of these differences are becoming less pronounced over time, they do still exist.
Subtrope of Guilty Pleasure. Compare and contrast Closet Geek, which covers cases where a character may hide or avoid calling attention to their "nerdy" pursuits, but not necessarily out of shame. Contrast Real Men Wear Pink, which is specifically about male characters who enjoy so-called "feminine" hobbies, which they don't necessarily try to hide or feel embarrassed about.
May become a Shameful Source of Knowledge if the skills a character gained in the pursuit of their hobby are ever used or discussed. Can (and often does) lead to an Embarrassment Plot. See also Crime-Concealing Hobby, where the hobby itself isn't shameful but the motivation behind it is. Compare Embarrassing Cover Up.
- In an ad for the Yellow Pages, a group of punk rockers laugh at one of their friends when they find him quilting. With the Yellow Pages, the guy finds himself a quilting bee where they accept him as-is. The last shot is all the other granny-looking members admiring his latest creation: a square with a skull design.
- 4 Angies: As is demonstrated in episode 11, the principal of Angel Elementary School is shown to have an interest in toys and will still freely play with them despite being a grown man. This is why he disallows students at his school from bringing toys to class, not just because they're a disruption to his pupils, but also because he doesn't want anyone to know he's a toy geek — so much so that he even has a room where he plays with toys in secret.
- Asteroid in Love: When they were in elementary school, Keiko and Mai often play Treasure Map together. Skip to Present Day, while that inspires Mai's interest in cartography, Keiko considers it childish to the point of being Played for Drama briefly—when Mai and Keiko reunited, Keiko originally calls Mai on First-Name Basis; but upon hearing Mai still clings to their old hobby, Keiko switches to Last-Name Basis, indicating an intent to distant herself from Mai.
- Azumanga Daioh: One of Sakaki's defining character traits is her love for cute objects, which she collects. She's especially fond of plush dolls and has an even bigger soft spot for cats. But she hides it from her friends at school, because they have the wrong idea about her and she's too shy to tell them. So she'd be mortified if they ever found out. While there's never a big reveal moment, they eventually do figure out that side of her, and Chiyo even bonds with her over it.
- Cells at Work and Friends!: Taken to an extreme by Killer T, a leader of a squad of Killer T cells tasked with destroying the most dangerous viruses. He's taken his Jerkass Rated M for Manly image so far that he doesn't feel like he can openly do anything "unmanly" like... have friends, attend parties, play cell phone games, or watch sappy romantic comedies for fear that he would lose the respect of his squad and the populace. Most of the comedy stems from his attempts to enjoy his hobbies without outing himself.
- Cupid's Chocolate-ing: Tang Xuan is the leader of her school's sports club and tries to keep an image of a strong-willed tomboy with everyone, so she doesn't want anybody to know about her interest in cosplay, including rather girly outfits like a Meido.
- Genshiken: Ogiue's character arc involves starting out with a downright crippling sense of self-loathing over being an otaku and an amateur artist who's into yaoi manga. Over time and Character Development, however, she manages to move beyond (and put the reason she feels that way), and eventually becomes a competent club leader and a published manga artist.
- How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?: Satomi Tachibana is a school teacher who secretly likes to cosplay under the alias Riko Juria, and freaks out whenever she suspects someone might find out about it since she wants to keep her professional and personal lives apart from each other.
- In Make the Exorcist Fall in Love, Father initially insists that he knows how to cook due to handling chores around the monastery, but he later admits to Imuri that he's much more comfortable in a kitchen than on a battlefield. Were it up to him, he'd likely spend all day baking sweets to make others happy, but is afraid of revealing this to others because it wouldn't seem "manly".
- My Dress-Up Darling: The whole premise starts out with the male protagonist Wakana Gojo thinking that him liking Hina dolls and wanting to follow in his grandfather's footsteps in making them is this (owing to one time in his childhood when a girl his age told him it was gross for him to like the dolls as he was a boy). It's not until he meets Marin Kitagawa, who strongly believes that everyone should be free to like what they want and without being judged, that he slowly begins to open up about it.
- Pecola: As shown in the episode "Mysterious Pecola", several of Cube Town's citizens have hobbies and interests that they find to be rather embarrassing:
- Dr. Chu, a scientist, enjoys comic books even though they're not exactly scientific.
- Bongo collects toy cars.
- Gazelle seems to be a fan of Elvis Presley, given the snazzy belt he receives in the mail and his brief imitations of Elvis's voice.
- Mr. Saruyama loves ballet dances, and is even working on his own ballet called "The Dance of the Melons".
- Rudy plays with a jump rope, even chanting rhymes as he skips.
- Early on in The Quintessential Quintuplets, Miku tells Fuutarou that she doesn't want the others to know about her interest in Sengoku Era warlords, considering it weird. Fuutarou internally does think it's weird, but uses it to his advantage to win her over and convince her to study with him.
- Shiawase Tori-mingu: Shy birdwatching otaku Tsubasa dons a full-sized bird costume and makes Youtube videos full of bird facts under the moniker Tori-san. Despite her love of birds, she is deeply, deeply embarrassed by this and strongly desires nobody else finds out. Naturally, everybody else finds out. Mainly because she she keeps lapsing into Tori-san's Verbal Tic of ending all her sentences with "-pi!"
- Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku starts off with Narumi being dumped by her previous boyfriend after he found out she's an otaku and being ostracized at work when he outs her as one. She changes jobs just to avoid the shame. She also states that not even she would date an otaku since they're "gross".
- In Zits, Pierce is secretly a scrapbooker and spends a lot of time desperately hiding the fact.
- Deconstructed in one episode of MAD Magazine's "A Mad Look At..." strips. Two football jocks tease one of their peers for being a cheerleader (yes, male cheerleaders are a thing). Later, they see him practising with his squad, where he's surrounded by pretty girls, with one of them sitting on his hand so he can lift her up high for the routine, to the jock's chagrin.
- In Inheritance (Worm), Quarrel was one of the most violent and psychotic Butchers after inheriting the mantle. She's humiliated when Taylor reveals in an AMA that her hobbies included listening to pop music and collecting Funko Pops.
- In Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, Buck, a mechanic whom the gang consider a suspect, turns out to have been sneaking around to gather wildflowers. He didn't want anyone to know he collected pressed flowers because it didn't fit his tough-guy image.
- High School Musical: One of the driving problems in the story is that multiple characters in the different cliques have their own secret, non-stereotypical hobby, like a skater dude being into cello-playing. Troy's singing finally gives them the confidence to tell their friends... only for their friends to all collectively reject the notion that they can have those interests and tell them to "Stick to the Status Quo", justifying the embarrassment that made them hide their interests in the first place.
- Spaceballs: Sandurz catches Dark Helmet playing with dolls. (Specifically, "Spaceballs: The Action Figures".)
- Inverted in Discworld: Nobby is part of the Ankh-Morpork Folk Dance and Song Society and the historical re-enactment society, but doesn't find it embarrassing in the least, while his coworkers do.
- In Haruka Nogizaka's Secret, the titular character is a rich, beautiful, musically gifted, athletic natural at almost everything... as well as a total anime and manga otaku. Her secrecy is less a matter of personal embarrassment, however, than the fact that her hobby being made public caused her to be bullied out of her former school.
- In the Lord Meren mystery novels, set in ancient Egypt, Meren's secret hobby is juggling beanbags. He does this because it's soothing, occupying his ever-busy mind when he's stressed out; however, as a highborn Egyptian nobleman, he has to conceal this habit because juggling is associated with low-born street entertainers and riff-raff.
- On 30 Rock, Jack had a cookie jar collection as his embarrassing hobby, which he gets rid of in order to get ahead at GE.
- In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper goes to a cellar room in Caltech every day to play keepie-up with a beanbag. He tries to hide it from his friends and Hilarity Ensues when they try to find out what exactly Sheldon does in the half-hour he mysteriously takes every day.
- In the Friends episode "The One Where Monica Sings", Chander reveals that as a kid he earned his allowance by plucking the eyebrows of his father and father's friends, an embarrassing fact only admitted so he could help Joey out of the results an less-than-successful self-waxing attempt.
- An episode of iCarly ran on the All Girls Want Bad Boys trope until the title character realized her "bad boy" had a collection of girly toys. This was a big enough turn-off for her to dump him.
- In Midsomer Murders, Troy secretly collected a comic called The Hawk which he was embarrassed about. Inspector Barnaby did not seem to mind when he found out, although he thought Troy was a bit stupid for keeping it secret.
- In an episode of NCIS, it's discovered that the Victim of the Week is a very prolific collector of vintage television lunchboxes. Though the victim is too... well... dead to be embarrassed by it at the time, he had been keeping his hobby secret from his neighbors and basically every member of the cast mocks him for it. Amusingly, due to the lack of any other leads at the time, they briefly investigate the possibility that he was murdered as a result of a lunchbox deal gone horribly wrong (he wasn't).
- In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Jerry, one of the school bullies, was in the school's Sewing Club, which he would deny any time it was brought up.
- In the Psych episode "Not Even Close... Encounters", a childhood friend of Shawn's, who has grown up to be a rich, successful lawyer with a hot girlfriend, is revealed to have a secret room in his house where he keeps an extensive collection of comic book and sci-fi memorabilia and toys. He begs Shawn not to let his girlfriend know.
- On Seinfeld Jerry is secretly a fan of Melrose Place. His Girl of the Week is a cop and doesn't believe him when he says he never watches the show, so she has him hooked up to a Lie Detector and has the investigating detective ask him probing questions about plots going on on MP. Jerry is cool for a while but eventually cracks.
- On That '70s Show, everyone in the gang loves Styx. Eric is the only one who isn't ashamed of it.
- Riju from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the child leader of the Gerudo tribe who likes to play with her collection of stuffed sand seals in her bedroom during her free time. She chides Link if he catches her doing so, presumably because it's an embarrassing reminder that she is still a child.
- Mobster Vinnie Gognitti from the Max Payne series collects Captain BaseballBat Boy memorabilia, as Max finds out in the second game. This is especially embarrassing to Vinnie, as he strives to project a tough-guy image despite not actually being one:
"What? I'm a collector! Lotsa tough guys are into this stuff! Frankie was into this stuff; he was a fuckin' tough guy! Nothing nerdy about it. I'm a collector!"
- Deconstructed in Persona 4. One of the main characters, Kanji Tatsumi, loves knitting and sewing things. However, because he has the Face of a Thug, he's embarrassed about his hobbies because he fears they'll make him seem unmanly. Even after going through some Character Development, he's fairly embarrassed when discussing his love of "cute things".
- Guardian Tales has Idol Captain Eva, who tries to hide from her original identity because she worries about making her original role, the Knight Captain, look weak. (Never mind that everyone knows who Idol Captain Eva is, thanks to her very Paper-Thin Disguise.) Add that with her portrait even going forth to show her with red-looking cheeks.
- A couple of unusual ones in Double Homework (It Makes Sense in Context):
- The protagonist (a jock) playing video games.
- Morgan, the street-smart former gang leader, has a love of fantasy books, movies, and TV shows.
- Galaxy Angel: Mint Blancmanche usually conducts herself with an air of maturity and elegance expected from a high-class lady, but she loves to wear mascot costumes that she keeps in her room in the Elsior (Tact at first assumes they're giant plush dolls). She's afraid of people finding out and thinking it's silly or childish of her.
- Jupiter-Men: While it's not uncommon for young people to be fans of Jupiter-Man, Quintin's fixation on him borders on obsession. His classmates snicker at him when he insists that Jupiter-Man must have superpowers but even his friends and loved ones can't wrap their heads around Quintin's hobby. Arrio has to convince some sophomores not to pick on Quintin for his "looney" presentation and Jackie calls Quintin "crazy" and shows disdain for how dumbfounding his project was. Quintin is clearly hurt by this and grumbles about how no one around him believes him.
- Sword Art Online Abridged: Suguha is a regular player of Alfheim Online, a “girly fairy game” where she role-plays as a beautiful elf-fairy princess, and actively hides it from everyone around her (for example, yelling at Nagata for mentioning it in public) because she despises her own femininity.
- Arthur: In "That's a Baby Show", the title character develops a secret obsession with Love Ducks, a fictional ultra-psychedelic children's show that may or may not be a parody (or Expy) of Teletubbies.
- Candace from Phineas and Ferb loves the children's show Ducky Momo but, being an average teenage girl, she can't let anybody find out lest she be teased to death.
- In The Replacements, Alpha Bitch Sierra is secretly a fan of a geeky sci-fi show but cannot admit it to anyone...at least, until the episode where she loses her spot on the cheerleading squad and is no longer obsessed with being 'cool'.
- Steven Universe: In "The Good Lars", Lars reveals he enjoys baking, but when Sadie encourages him to bring his specialty, ube cake, to a potluck, Lars hesitates because he's convinced everyone will think baking is uncool. In the end, his fear wins out and he throws out his cake.