Halloween is one of my all-time favorite holidays. After all, when else is it perfectly acceptable to walk around in 6-inch stiletto heels, black fishnet stockings, and bright red lipstick?
I asked around the office for some of the best – and worst – costumes that my co-workers had seen. What I heard got me to thinking. What does the costume we choose say about ourselves? Are we really hiding anything behind those masks…or, are we actually revealing our true nature?
What about those Playboy bunnies, French maids, and “ladies of the evening?” Are the girls who don those costumes as cheap and sleazy as I think ? Or, are they girls who are actually afraid of their own sexuality the other 364 days a year?
I was never one to have especially cool or witty costumes as a kid. My mom didn’t sew, and her creativity didn’t extend beyond mixing various Campbell’s soups with chicken for dinner. No, I was a kid who usually wore those store-bought costumes.
Except one year. I went as a housewife. I put on my mom’s long baby blue quilted bathrobe, adorned her shag wig – complete with rollers and shower cap, applied some coral lipstick, and stuck a cigarette in my mouth. Ta da! Housewife! Now what does that say about my perceptions of a woman’s role in society in the mid 1970’s?
If I were to choose a costume today, I’d go as a lounge singer in a long red sequin dress, like Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” Or a teacher. A hip New Yorker. Or a grandma. All things I always wanted to be, but never will.
I can barely remember the last time I dressed up for Halloween. I think it was about four years ago when I was a mentor in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. I was so excited to take my little sister out trick or treating. I told her to bring the biggest pillow case she could find to carry home all her loot. I was less enthusiastic, however, about the prospect of dressing up myself and walking around in some half-hearted costume in broad daylight. (Where I used to live in New Hampshire treat or treating always took place on a Sunday afternoon.) On the big day I picked up my little sister at her family’s apartment
which was literally on the other side of the tracks. She came lumbering down the rickety stairs dressed as a cat. Cats are graceful, quiet, mysterious creatures. Everything my little sister wasn’t. What made her choose such a costume? Is that the way she saw herself? Or was it how she so desperately wanted to be seen?
We spend a lot of time worrying about how others perceive us. The make up we put on every morning. The fashions we pay a fortune for. The hot rollers, hair straighteners, hair dye and gel are all just part of a costume that we wear every day. After all, how many times have you heard the saying “Clothes make the man.”
What is it about a policeman’s or fire fighter’s uniform that commands such respect? If I put on a blond wig will I be any sexier? Will glasses actually make me smarter, or just look that way?
I’ve come to realize that disguises can take many forms. When my ex-husband and I announced we were getting divorced practically no one could believe it. We’d always gone on the best vacations, they said…went out on the boat together every weekend…had a great house…seemed to want the same things. Only the two of us knew how unhappy we each were.
It’s easy to hide loneliness behind humor. The one who truly hates cocktail parties is not the wallflower in the corner, but the one who is surrounded by others laughing hysterically at her stories. She’s so busy telling those time-worn tales that she doesn’t have to interact with anyone on a more personal level. She’s just performing on a stage. It’s theatre in the round.
Each of us puts on a mask every day. Whether it’s putting on a brave face in front of our children. Holding back tears when our boss criticizes a project we’ve worked hard on. Or even something as innocuous as dressing for dinner out.
This Halloween while I’m out and about among the princesses and rock stars, doctors and naughty nurses, devils and pregnant nuns I’ll be wondering what’s really behind those masks.