I hate Halloween. I was never opposed to collecting candy from strangers, in fact that part of the holiday suited my sweet tooth quite well. I also wasn’t worried about the holiday’s connection with the darker things of the world. No, my anxiety about Halloween kicked in around October 1st each year because of one thing – costumes.
As the annual school costume parade came closer and closer with each passing day, my anxiety increased. There is so much on the line with Halloween when you’re young, especially for introverted perfectionists. The introvert in me hated (heck, still hates) the attention costumes bring, the perfectionist feared I would pick the wrong costume, one that would send me forever to the outskirts of my peer group. I was shy and awkward throughout school but somehow managed to not be the most picked on member of the class and I wanted to keep it that way. The wrong costume could change everything.
On top of that, every year I fantasized I would pick the right beautiful and clever costume that would catapult me to popularity and acceptance. No small fete when you come from a solidly middle class family with no extra resources for store bought costumes. The pressure was high.
I am convinced I was born in the wrong decade. Today, homemade costumes are highly praised, bright spots in a sea of mass made Elsa costumes. In the 80’s? Not so much. Each year I would sit with my mom and think through costumes we could make with resources from home, dreaming all the while of the store bought costume aisles.
I became a witch. A clown. A Raggedy Ann nurse. Mary Poppins. A librarian. A gum-ball machine (picture a clear plastic bag filled with balloons that needed much explanation and was impossible to sit in). Charlie Brown.
To my mom’s credit, she came up with clever ideas and stretched limited resources to cover all three of us every year. But I never was a beautiful store bought princess or a popular character everyone knew from the most recent Disney movie. I spent my Halloweens explaining my costume again and again. Never quite receiving the affirmation I was looking for from the world. Always feeling like I didn’t quite measure up.
When I reached high school, I stopped participating. I came up with reasons every year for why I couldn’t dress up, why I couldn’t attend costume parties. If I did go, I always had an excuse ready for why I wasn’t in costume.
I did the same for 30 years, unaware of exactly what was making me hesitate when an occasion called for a costume. I just always had a strong visceral physical response and since I was an adult, I chose not to participate.
When I began this journey to be brave not perfect, an opportunity quickly presented itself for me to dress in costume, a funkalicious 70’s night to support a friend. My negative reaction caught my attention. I started digging deeper. I had never stopped to think why I hated Halloween and costumes. I’d never looked beneath the surface feelings to uncover the root cause. And when I did? There was my nemesis perfectionism waiting to greet me.
Every child wants to fit in. We are wired for acceptance. Our school years are filled with navigating the perils that come with fickle female friendships where you are in the clique one day and out the next for no apparent reason. Academic life is structured for comparison. I was a good student, perfect grades every year. But I was not perfectly accepted for just being who I was, and at times I was actively teased. Halloween seemed to highlight my awkwardness and lack of resources, pushing me farther from acceptance.
As my need to achieve society’s idea of perfection grew with each passing year, I began to avoid anything that made me feel awkward or on the outskirts. Costumes were the first to go.
So it seemed appropriate they be one of the first things tackled as I began this journey.
Recently, as 70’s funkalicious night loomed closer, the same anxiety crept in. Returning to the site again and again, I scoured Amazon for the perfect outfit until I realized I was approaching the experience with the same feelings and behaviors. Correcting that, I settled on one that was good enough, determined to embrace the costume and the experience flaws and all.
The night arrived, I donned my costume, and the world did not fall down around me. In fact, while the wig was itchy and I was technically more 60’s than 70’s, the night was great. We danced. We sang. We took silly pictures. And 30 minutes in, I took a few minutes to remember the little girl who stood behind her Charlie Brown mask hoping no one would look at her, the little girl who explained her costume shyly again and again to an underwhelming response, and I told her she was brave.
She was brave then and she is brave now. And in that, she is perfect.