by Carmen Rios
It’s that time of year again! Ah, yes, the autumn: when pumpkin spice rocks my world, grandpa sweaters swaddle me at all times, and the never-ending anxiety of Halloween used to consume my every day activities like showering, going to school, and watching television.
Now that I’m no longer in middle school, or high school, or college, I have been spending my October breathing a deep sigh of relief. One of the few advantages to graduating from college and jumping into “the real world,” AKA a real-time simulation of Hell in which everyone is broke, sleep-deprived, and depressed? Halloween is no longer what it used to be. In fact, it’s hardly a thing at all. Parties are about wearing something you own in an effort to look like someone or something else – and whether that costume is Kanye West or that dude from Revenge of the Nerds, if you look like you took it too seriously you’ve already lost. I feel seriously free of something now that I am “too old for Halloween.” I’m not wistfully nostalgic about the candy or the weird frat parties or even the time spent walking around unattended with my friends. I’m happier than ever.
Halloween was never for me. I blame some of that on my mom and some of that on the commercialization and sexualization that happens around this time of year, and consider my terribly unspooky existence one of the Many Reasons I Am Still Sort of Lame Compared to Normal People. (That, and my belief in ghosts.) My anxiety around Halloween has existed since I was but a young’n in elementary school, and I decided I wanted to be Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie. My mom made me wear a costume she had sewn for me, and even though it was a belly shirt I wasn’t allowed to show my belly – not in the school parade and not on the candy route – so she put me in a nude undershirt. I wore a nude undershirt to school. The other four girls being genies were – guess what! – wearing store bought “sexy” costumes with their bellies out. But it had never been about the belly. It had always been about my desire to simply do Halloween right like everyone else. I wanted to look like I was rockin’ my costume, y’know? Instead I was awkward and uncomfortable and felt totally and completely ugly. It was the first time. It was not the last.
Every year I waited for Halloween to end. There were a lot of issues that made me feel distance from the Annual Candy Gathering, including but not limited to: my own insecurities about my growing and changing body, my mother’s insistence on walking around with my friends and I no matter how old we got, my own inability to decide unemotionally when I was “too old to trick-or-treat,” and the fact that every single year, without fail, I was pressured into doing it again. People wore their costumes to school, to work, to the mall, to the grocery store, in the street. If you weren’t dressed up you were clearly an antisocial freak, someone with no ability to have fun, someone very, very uncool.
The costume choices were, of course, sexualized. I was at a point where people and the entire world made me feel ugly and I didn’t feel sexy, not once, not ever. But not dressing like that was a constant weighing of the scales. I could cave, attempt to look sexy, and feel bad about it, or I could resist, wear something else, and feel bad about it. I just felt bad. I hated Halloween, and I felt like an idiot. Every time.
A lot has changed since then. I’m too old for Halloween now but I’m also a million times happier than I was then. The pressure to wear “sexy” costumes faded out. The idea that my body wasn’t disgusting stuck around. I slowly but surely learned how to love myself, even if I was a total dork who wore a nude undershirt. For a long time, Halloween was this moment frozen in time every single year where I participated in some sort of freak show parade where half of us were gonna be cool kids with relevant, sexy costumes and I was going to look like I went thrifting in the dark. But suddenly, Halloween is less scary. I’ve seriously figured out who I am and now changing into someone else doesn’t sound so impossible. Women are so beautiful – I am so beautiful – and if it hadn’t become a battle of wits I’d probably be retired from the Look Like Something Else game entirely, but I can stick around for now and shake down the last demons. This year I think I might be Young Bob Dylan, or Romi Klinger, or my friend Patrick. Last year I was Wonder Woman, and the year before that I was Richard Simmons.
I feel beautiful all the time now.
And now nothing scares me.