How I Deal With Body Image On Halloween

Photo: Courtesy of Liz Black.
Some people are obsessed with Valentine’s Day, pining over red roses and romantic dinners. Others love the glitzy fresh start and midnight kisses of New Year's. I’m a Halloween kinda gal, going full-throttle into painstakingly crafted ensembles each year. I love a DIY project, and I don't do boxed costumes. For one thing, they often show a lot of skin, and anyway they aren't always offered in my size. (Or, they're blatantly offensively marketed.) Still, whether out of a box or homemade, skimpy looks abound each autumn, bringing with them the same chorus of detractors and supporters — a debate that’s especially fraught for me, a plus-size lady devoted to decidedly un-hot Halloween garb.
A few Halloweens ago, as I adjusted my fanny pack and pulled the waistband of my baggy sweatpants over my ribcage, I surveyed the scene. I was clearly the most overdressed person in the room. A scantily clad police officer stalked past, while the nurse in skimpy scrubs looked more likely to cause a heart attack than save anyone. I gazed down at my scuffed Easy Spirit sneakers and wiped my coke-bottle reading glasses with a corner of my zip-up sweater. While I have many years to go before I earn my first social security check, my faux-elderly visage appeared to mark me as someone who had given up and stored my sex appeal in a dusty attic. I, of course, got a kick out of my gamblin’ granny getup, and I had a ton of fun putting together the details. But, let's just say my costume wasn’t appreciated by the go-hot-or-go-home masses. I felt like the awkward wallflower in an ‘80s teen flick — standing in the corner by the punch bowl, nervously wrapping my cardigan over my chubby body, hoping that someone might actually acknowledge me over the parade of flesh.
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Photo: Courtesy of Liz Black.
The thing is, I tried the whole “sexy” costume experience once. A few years ago, when I had recently moved to the New York City area, I made friends with a group of party girls who seemed to have every club promoter’s number on speed dial. When Halloween rolled around that year, I succumbed to their sexy-costume peer pressure and went as Bettie Page. I figured if I had to go sexy, I might as well dress as an icon. My ample curves reflected those of the infamous pinup, so while I still battled my inner body-demons about wearing something so skimpy, I felt that I if I tried to act the part, perhaps I’d be inspired by Bettie’s confidence. But, as I strutted out into the night (repeatedly adjusting my short dress, animal-print cardigan, fishnets, and jet black wig), I was that ‘80s teen again — only this time my body was on display. Despite that, I was certain that everyone would recognize my baby-banged styling and that the compliments would flow forth. Instead, as I tried to bolster myself with vodka, I felt the truth sinking in: This sexy-costume business just wasn't for me. Aside from the frigid temperatures and cardigan-gripping insecurity, I had to deal with guys slobbering all over me, attempting to grope me, or eyeing me up and down and asking “How much?” That lewd attention took away from the creativity that I thought was at the heart of this holiday; it made it impossible to relax and have fun. But, Halloween or otherwise, it should go without saying that no matter how eccentric or revealing, an outfit is never an invitation.
Photo: Courtesy of Liz Black.
Still, the answer, for me, was to get back to my crafty roots. I find creativity and humor to be sexy, so I knew I would feel confident in anything I made, even if I looked silly — and that silly would always feel better than squeezing myself into some hotness mold into which I didn't fit. My first attempt at bucking the trend was with my gamblin' granny ensemble (brought out of retirement last Halloween and pieced together with help from my actual Grandmother's closet). With thick reading glasses, plus gray-tinted locks poking out from my “#1 Grandma” visor, there was no doubt that I was one of the least traditionally sexy women out on the street — and I loved it. I had DIY’d my way to a Halloween experience that was fun, fulfilling, and felt true to me.
Four years ago, I got married the day before Halloween. I imagined a lifetime of costumed anniversary parties and unconventional couple’s costumes John and I could plan all year. We started off simply enough, as Morticia and Gomez Addams, but I quickly ramped up my crafting skills, papier-mâché-ing my own Adam and Barbara Maitland masks (you know, the homely ghost couple in Beetlejuice whose heads go all wonky when they try to become scary ghosts?). I loved the positive response I got this time; watching Beetlejuice fans excitedly snap pictures of my homemade masks was more fun for me than the ogling I endured when poured into a Ms. Page dress.
Photo: Courtesy of Liz Black.
Last Halloween, I stood outside in the cold watching people saunter by in various states of dress, some barely attired, and some so enveloped I couldn't even see their faces. After my negative experience as Bettie Page, I had originally been left wondering how anyone had fun in skimpy ensembles. But, taking a step back, I came to realize that making my creative costumes was my version of sexy. It got the kind of attention I wanted, in a way I personally enjoyed. Someone else might have that exact kind of fun in a sexy ice-bucket-challenge costume, or dressed as a hot My Little Pony. It’s not about size, it’s not about fabric, and it’s just like every other day: We all deserve to feel good about ourselves, and we should wear whatever it is that will make that possible.
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