Earlier today I was listening to an interview with an actress I admire, and she said, “Sometimes I think costumes are amazing… you put them on, and suddenly you understand who you are.” I love this quote to honor Halloween, it really sums up so much of what I adore about this fun holiday.
But let me back up: for me, the heart of Halloween is that it is a day that encourages dualistic thinking.
It expands our minds.
On Halloween we both exult in and vilify our fears and the dark traits that we have in each of us through costumes, makeup and artifice. Think of classic halloween costumes – ghosts, devils, grim reapers. These are all figures by which we are simultaneously scared and fascinated, because they represent something of the unknown – what happens after we die? What will become of us?
As we look beyond ourselves into the face of the unknown, we also have this liberating, culturally-approved moment to express measured amounts of our own rich inner lives, our dark sides and shadow aspects. It’s a safe opportunity to show a side of ourselves that we normally keep under wraps in public.
Now think of another classic Halloween costume for women: a witch. Witches often show up on Halloween as the green-faced archetype from “The Wizard of Oz,” a powerful, villainous, cackling antagonist hell-bent on exacting revenge on a naive young girl (and her little dog, too!) and getting her sister’s shoes back.
When contrasted with Dorothy’s innocence and kindness, the Witch’s darkness, rage and power come into stark relief. Women are so often shamed in American culture for being angry, strong, or intensely focused on our goals, but we all have those aspects within us. We are whole people, with a wide spectrum of emotions that all need pathways for expression.
Embodying the Witch on Halloween, as just one example of expressing our shadow selves, lets us not only make our dark aspects known, but also lets us revel in them and appreciate them in a socially sanctioned way. We relate to the Witch, we see parts of ourselves in her; and so we wear her costume to give those parts room to breathe. On Halloween, when we are in the Witch’s clothes, we can cackle, shriek, communicate rage and power, be menacing and wild, and we don’t have to fear being shunned.
Expressing these dark side traits in a way that feels comfortable has so many psychic benefits. It’s difficult to thrive when emotions are suppressed, and the simple act of wearing something ceremonial can create a doorway through which stuck emotion can flow. A path of resonance.
Some of the things we do when in this resonant mode may feel positive and like they belong to us, and at other times we find things we’ve long done no longer fit. And so in this way we can integrate these traits into our everyday behavior or shed them, evolving our own gifts, senses and characteristics to more closely serve us in this life. We all want and need permission to engage in moments of dominance, wildness or aggression; Halloween provides us this chance to indulge and see what works.
We do this all the time in smaller, more subtle ways.
Maybe we’re feeling body-positive one day and choose to wear something that emphasizes one of our physical attributes. Maybe we’re sad or depressed and wear nothing but pajama bottoms and a hooded sweatshirt all day, or maybe we put on a leather jacket to feel rock and roll or a piece of our grandmother’s jewelry to feel demure. It can even be as subtle as having a lipstick color or perfume we wear when we want to feel powerful. These material things aid us in expressing what we want to communicate, to vent what’s cooking inside.
Most importantly, we can unlock new wisdom, power and creative energies to aid us in our lives through costume. What can you learn from a costume? For starters, how does it make you feel? A few years ago I dressed as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace from Battlestar Galactica, a boozin’, gamblin’ space fighter pilot. I related to Starbuck and still do because she’s a total badass, but she’s also a very complex, troubled character – she’s hot headed, cocky and drinks too much. And she’s willing to sacrifice herself for the good of her people.
By embodying Starbuck, I got to enjoy the thrill of being wild, daring and heroic in a way that I don’t typically feel in myself. Now, any time I need to call upon those feelings I can remember my time as Starbuck and instantly feel these threads of what I admire in the character. My whole body remembers the energetic footprint of becoming, if only for a moment, an enigmatic hero.
It’s like I put on the costume and suddenly understood who I am.
Every experience we go through leaves an imprint on us, leaves us with more information than we had before. The ritual of choosing, creating and then wearing a costume with which we have resonance can help us to see the world through a more diverse lens. Joining our fellow women/femme movement practitioners at Carla’s Slow Grind class each week is an excellent way to begin to play with costume. Slow Grind encourages female-identified humans to wear whatever they want, from heels and undies to yoga clothes to costumes fit for a music video, with the disco ball spinning and lights turned low to heighten the immersive experience. Check out the class schedule here.