We’re spending seven billion dollars on Halloween this year. Seven billion. Sometimes that irks me, like when I trip over the neighbors’ cheesy fake headstones on my way to borrow some pumpkin carving tools (to reduce my contribution to said seven billion) and end up draped in synthetic spider webs. Or when I drive past yet another witch wrapped around a tree. You’d think those clumsy hags would have learned to fly by now, or at least change out their tacky, striped tights. Witches don’t wear leggings anymore, people. The ones I know all wear Lulu Lemon.
Then there’s the reject candy that sits in your house till June because, let’s be clear, the only person who ever eats a Mounds or a Good n Plenty is the person who has never tried one. Yet the bags of mixed candy we buy are at least 20% filled with stuff no one wants. I did a few high-level calculations and broke down the cost of a typical assortment: one bag of 30 pieces of individually wrapped Reese’s Cups, Kit Kat, Hershey Bar and Mounds costs $4.86 at Wal-Mart. That means there are 7-8 pieces of each type of candy in that bag. You’re never going to eat the Mounds, so let’s just subtract them. What you’re getting is 22-23 pieces of candy for $4.86. Well, you can buy a bag of 26 Reese’s Cups for the same price! Rise up with me, people, and refuse to prop of the Mounds industry any longer!
I still advocate spending a little time and money on your costume, though. Spooky thrills and candy aside, dressing up is the undead soul of Halloween. Whether you stick some cat ears on your head or go all out with a Marie Antoinette wig and gown, taking the opportunity to transform yourself once a year isn’t just entertainment; it’s an opportunity to shift your perspective. As actors (and costume designers) know, there is power and freedom in adopting the form of a different person or creature. Since the days people worshipped Shiva and Dionysus, masks have been used to release people from their ordinary identities and give them a reprieve from societal norms. Masks help people to imagine what it’s like to be transformed into ‘the other,’ or to explore a deeper identity within themselves. Putting on a long, black coat, slicking my hair back and striding through a party in leather boots and dark glasses makes me feel like I could tap into the power of the Matrix and dodge those bullets every bit as well as Trinity. It’s a fun experiment; how often do you get to wear your sunglasses at night if you’re not Corey Hart (without annoying everyone, that is)?
We all get stuck in our personas. It’s great to have the chance to try something new on and shake up old mindsets. When my thirteen-year-old told me earlier this year that she wanted to start taking ballet, I thought, “Really? Isn’t it too late? How do you start ballet at thirteen? You can’t even touch your toes.” Fortunately, I knew better than to say it out loud. How the race toward achievement makes me automatically think thirteen is too old to start anything is a topic for another day.
As it turns out, she loves ballet. She never complains about going, as she used to with soccer. She’s still not very flexible, but she’s standing up straighter. The interesting thing is that happened almost immediately—when she put on the ballet costume, in fact. As Amy Cuddy points out in her Ted Talk on body language, “Power posing—standing in a posture of confidence even when we don’t feel confident—can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.” Shifting your physicality, whether through a new posture or a new costume, is a small but important way to explore new ways of seeing the world.
So if you’re not already dressing up tonight, throw on a costume. It might not make you stand up straighter; it may even hunch you over, if you’re Quasimodo, but regardless, you’ll see things a little differently from that angle. Maybe we’re getting something important out of our seven billion dollar investment after all.