I haven’t always liked Halloween.
In fact, as a kid, I hated it mostly. But it wasn’t all bad. Most of my childhood Halloween costumes, outside of the plastic facemask dollar store jump offs, were really all about what was available. A dress I wore as the flower girl for my aunt’s wedding became a mini-bride costume, then a princess. A lavender dress worn for a cousin’s sweet sixteen was a second version of a princess, and then a fairy.
It became really tough when I outgrew them.
What do you put on a girl whose body was too shapely for a child’s costume but still too young for the grown and sexy?
In the era before Halloween costumes had junior sizes, my mother’s answer was to give me hand me down costumes from my older brother. One year I was a ninja-vampire-clown thing. I was utterly miserable and self conscious. The plastic clown mask was hot, the fake blood on my chin had congealed and grown itchy, and the plain black ninja costume was a stiff nylon thing that sounded like newspaper as I walked. I didn’t have a cool ninja sword or anything. I was so focused on my own misery that I can’t even tell you what my brother was that year. As I cried and pouted, my mother looked at me and said “Stop crying, Halloween is supposed to be about fun and being silly.”
Now as an adult, I take choosing my Halloween costumes very seriously. I often refer to my childhood as a way to explain my seriousness in the matter. This is no blame of my mother, who was doing what she could with what she had and trying to prolong my innocence, to protect me from the catcalls and stares that would inevitably come all too soon. It is, essentially, just my personal shit, the preteen inside of me who self-consciously trudged along in a costume no one could recognize, thinking nothing of the night or the candy and least of all, of how much fun the night should be.
That inner preteen is such a fucking brat.
Now, choosing a Halloween costume is a very delicate and detailed process. The process usually begins in late August, when one of my closest friends and I search the Halloween costume websites for what is unique or new that year. Ideas are usually brainstormed and then we either buy a costume and add our own style to it so it doesn’t look exactly like the ad or we create an entire look. It may sound crazy and drawn out but trust me; the worst costumes are the last minute ones. In the years that I’ve taken Halloween seriously, I’ve been a school girl, a queen bee, a pimp, a matador, a hippy, and a ladybug. Some I purchased and some I made. I have had moderate to amazing fun every single year since I started doing this. I regret nothing.
I have come across a number of difficulties when choosing a Halloween costume. The first is finding something that is not too cumbersome to wear while out at a Halloween party. Since my queen bee costume and my pimp costume, I have sworn off wings or props like canes, hats, wands, etc. They just get in the way. The second difficulty is finding a size that fits. Halloween costumes are cut for the hipless, the bootyless, the boobyless, none of which I am. I am usually a large, which ranges from size 12-14, so I aim for bigger sizes as a costume large is usually a medium. The largest sizes are the first to go. It is the reason why I start looking at the end of the summer. Nothing is worse than getting a last minute costume that looks cheap and is completely ill-fitting. Now you understand, right?
The debate on all female costumes being sexy this or sexy that is for me, something I can’t quite settle my mind on. The typical argument in terms of this is that it is an over-sexualization of the female to the point of exploitation. It is a male driven holiday, so costumes are geared for the male gaze. Young women are drawn into this over-sexualization. Young girls dream of the Halloween night where they can twerk in a sexy nun costume. How can women be so mad with the unwanted attention that these sexy costumes garner?
This I can see. This I can understand. This I even agree with, to a point.
But I ENJOY the thigh high stockings, the tight skirts, and low cut tops. Though I admit, some of these costumes created for women are more for role-play in the bedroom than a Halloween party, I enjoy this one night where hot pants for my big hips is acceptable, fishnet stockings go with everything, and dramatic makeup is a necessity. As a woman that celebrates her sexuality and is not ashamed of it, I see nothing wrong with a sexy nurse or a sexy cop. Halloween has, in my adulthood, become a night where I celebrate the sexiness inside of me, FOR me, and it is acceptable. That I can dig.
Overall, the real problem is not what a woman should or should not wear and more about what men should or should not DO. I could walk around in a Corona bikini and hold a placard that reads “Round 1” for my costume and it still would not be okay for a man to overstep with me. Like Mami said back then, “Halloween is about being fun and silly,” not about being aggressive and disrespectful. Shaming a woman for a costume choice is just a justification of aggressive and unwanted behavior. A lack of control is not forced on a man by what a woman wears or does; self-control is something he needs to learn to have; hence, the word “self” before “control.” ¿Viste?
As I grew to know myself more as a woman of color and as a feminist, I began to really contemplate the implications of my costume choices. I cringed when I saw Julianne Hough in blackface as the Crazy Eyes character from the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” I wanted to reach out and tell her that the hairstyle was all she needed for people to recognize the character and that she just ended up offending people as a bronze idiot. I gagged when I heard of the popularity of universities like Penn State, Duke and others allowing the student body to have race- or class-themed parties. What the fuck is that about? Come to our “ghetto-themed” or “white-trash” party? A race-themed party? These kids are in fucking college for gosh sakes! To have a party that essentially perpetuates race and class stereotypes and excludes and isolates those that are of that race, ethnicity, or class is so disrespectful, I don’t even have the words to go on a rant about it.
I’ve never really been attracted to wearing a costume that represents a specific ethnicity or culture, even less attracted to it if it’s a “sexy ethnicity.” I’ve seen some beautiful costumes though. A sexy Bollywood star with gold embroidered aqua blue “sari”, or a sexy geisha with a dragon brocade “kimono”, or a sexy Pocahontas with an elaborate feathered headdress. But I couldn’t imagine walking into a room and possibly offending someone or the history of what the costumes represented. Take it for what it is, I can’t take disrespecting the ancestors like that, be them mine or anyone else’s. It looks great, don’t get me wrong. But I just can’t do it. I’ve also had issues with black and brown people going as a prison inmate, with orange or black and white striped jumpsuits. I want to hand out Michele Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow to all of them. There are enough of us in prison, let’s not mock our own reality.
But how can I debate intellectually over these things, when I dressed up as a pimp one year, an icon of violence against women, of the sexual exploitation of women for male profit? I’ll say this. The reality is that sometimes we do things without knowing, never realizing that we are actually part of the problem. I certainly didn’t think I was. Shit, I still have my pimp cup and my pimp cane. Knowing what I know now though, I don’t know if I would go as a pimp again. But I do know that the conversation I had to have with myself was one that is extremely important. It forced me to ask myself what I stand for and what I believe.
This year is going to be interesting. When I found the costume, I just knew it was the one. I often joke that picking your Halloween costume is like love at first sight or picking a wedding gown….you’ll just KNOW. I chose an iconic literary and film character, Alex DeLarge, the protagonist from A Clockwork Orange. I bought the costume in my size; it fits great although I need to buy some extras to make it my own thing. I am super excited to have it all come together.
Let’s break down what the book is all about, shall we? The book depicts Alex as the leader of a gang of ultraviolent youth in a futuristic Britain. Alex has an utter disregard for his victims and does not do well with his companions challenging him. Most of the crime committed is drug-fueled and sexually violent. He is captured, convicted, and jailed for a sexual crime. He submits to an experimental aversion therapy, which results in his rejection of the violence that had been a part of his life for so long. But when he reenters society, this aversion is his and his alone and he suffers greatly at the hands of those around him.
I know people who would critique me for choosing this costume for the explicit sexual violence against women that the book depicts. I grimace at it myself, I can’t lie. It goes against everything I stand for. But I am drawn to the character for a reason. In her essay, “Not Here to Make Friends,” Roxane Gay talks about the “seductive position writers put the reader in when they create an interesting, unlikable character – they make the reader complicit, in ways that are both uncomfortable and intriguing.” Alex DeLarge is a highly unlikeable but complex literary character that I think creates a successful plot.
Let me keep it real with you, I think Alex DeLarge’s character in A Clockwork Orange is a prick, a huge violent asshole who can’t handle the reality of his choices. But his experience is significant to me. It reminds me of back when I wore the pimp costume, when I was completely unaware of the triggers and implications of what I wore. It was just cool and funny to me. Growing into my consciousness, I have tried to have conversations with others about the implications made in things we do and how these implications are the pervasive ways that the hegemony retains control. These conversations are usually met with blank stares and glazed eyes until I break it completely down for them, an exhausting experience to say the least. Alex DeLarge, like me, was oblivious to his behavior, even cavalier about it. The therapy brought him into a new world, shaped his thinking in a new way. But upon reentering society, he is faced with those that have not been shown what he has and suffers greatly.
Now, I don’t think me being socially and culturally conscious makes me a social outcast. I try my best to keep it funky about the perspectives and values I have, despite the sometimes fiery feedback I get from others. But the story reminds me of something one of my professors told me. When you reach your consciousness, you turn around to see if those that have always stood behind you are coming with you and usually, they are not. Coming into one’s consciousness can be a very isolating experience and not as fantastic as we’d like to imagine it would be. Sometimes, those you thought would always be supportive are no longer cheering you on. Not everyone is looking at the sun with you and sometimes no one cares that you want to point it out.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stand by your beliefs and values. FUCK THAT. It is up to you to get the rest of them to see what you see. If someone helped you reach that place, you can help someone else. It is a rewarding experience spiritually to see someone’s perspective changed or softened by their own realizations. But it is up to those of us who are wading and exploring our own consciousness to show others who may not be aware of theirs. One voice starts the choir and all that good shit. So, start singing.
I brought this thought process up to a friend recently. He stared at me and admitted he had never read the book, so he didn’t understand the context of my contemplation. He did say the costume is hot, the eyelash thing will be dope, and he hopes I will be comfortable in it. I was dumbfounded at his response because I just KNEW I would be critiqued for my costume choice.
His response made me question my deep analysis of my costume choice. How deep should social and cultural analysis go when it’s about a Halloween costume, a general caricature of life? Understanding and in complete and total agreement over the offensive implications of “ethnic” costumes, the analysis of other costumes can become overwhelming. As a feminist, should I avoid fairy tale costumes because they depict women as helpless damsels in distress? Should I avoid flapper costumes because the flapper phenomenon excluded poor people and people of color?
I mean, when can I stop feeling bad and when does the fun begin?
I have come to a conclusion about it all and it is quite simple actually and I thank my mother for it.
Number one rule is to steer clear of blatantly offensive costumes…no ethnic costumes, nothing overtly against a group of people.
After analyzing my costume choices to the point of insanity I say that outside of that very important rule, like my mother said all those years ago to a self-conscious preteen,“Stop crying, Halloween is supposed to be about fun and being silly.”
I’m sticking with that. Thanks Mom.