Four Ways to Add Depth and Meaning to your Halloween Costume

Before we actually hit October, this is a great time to start thinking about putting thought and meaning into a fun costume. I wrote this piece last year about four ways to create fantastic and meaningful costumes. It’s still a passionate topic for me.

sometimesmagical

It’s October, which for me means that the month-long celebration of one of my favorite holidays has officially begun. Time to pull out the scary movies, sinister decorations, and fake blood. Also time to start planning a costume…which can be a somewhat daunting task.

I’m already seeing articles popping up about racism, sexism, slut-shaming, cultural insensitivity or fat-shaming in costumes, and I find myself bracing just a little bit for the onslaught of negativity. They’re not necessarily wrong—ugly elements of society tend to find their way into our celebrations in a number of ways, especially when it involves costumes. It’s important to be able to recognize the unsavory elements and talk about what they reveal about society.

But when that’s all there is, after a while it just starts to make Halloween feel absolutely hopeless.

So, I want to take a positive approach to the Halloween costume conundrum. Rather than…

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I’ll Take the Sex, but Leave Out the Baby

Babies.

Pregnancy.

Parenthood.

Three words that will extract a grimace or shudder from me pretty much guaranteed.

It may not be entirely unusual for a woman of my age to not have kids, but it’s pretty unacceptable for a woman of my age to just not want kids, period.

I don’t, though. People keep telling me that biological clock will kick in and I’ll change my mind, but I’ve gone almost a decade now with feeling set on remaining child-free. Being a mom would be one of my worst nightmares. That remains true even when my body is raging with hormones.

Of course I have the “respectable” reasons for not wanting to procreate.

There are plenty of children already on the earth. If I ever get the random urge to be the reason a child seeks therapy when they grow up, I can adopt one that is already living (then at least I can say it’s not entirely this mother’s fault).

But really, I don’t have a desire to pass on my dysfunction, and by dysfunction, I am being literal. My own upbringing was a rocky one, and I spend far too much time having to re-mother myself. Children don’t need a mother like that. It’s not fair to them or me.

Then there are the “selfish” reasons for not wanting to bake a bun in my oven.

I don’t feel like subjecting my body to that kind experience. I kind of like my breasts being just for me and the periodic person with whom I choose to share them rather than a 24-hour fast food station. I don’t really fancy a parasite sucking up my nutrients, making my feet swell, and breaking my back for nine months, not to mention tearing my vagina when it comes out.

I loathe throwing up. That on its own would be enough to make my decision for me.

I also really don’t feel like waking up at two in the morning to feed a screeching infant or clean up someone else’s bodily fluidds. I don’t fancy sacrificing my time, money, and energy to taxi people around, buy clothes that will be outgrown in a month, and ensure that no one sticks a knife into the electrical outlet. It just sounds exhausting.

I like sleeping in on weekends. I enjoy being able to use my free time for me time. I kind of like my sex life and going on vacations and walking around my apartment naked.

The strange part for me is not so much that I feel abnormal for being happily child-free. There are plenty of others, of many genders, who share my feelings regarding having children.

Rather, I’m baffled by how many people think that my decision to conceive or not is any of their damn business. It’s like people take personal offense that I’m not actively shoving sperm towards my uterus.

If we were in a movie and their own existence depended on this time-warped cycle of coming back to the past to convince an ancestor to allow their existence, I could understand that desperation. However, I’m not signing up to play one of the characters.

I don’t judge people for having kids…most of the time. There are exceptions. (And admit it, you do too!) I don’t take personal offense because someone wants a baby or thinks that pregnancy is the most magical time of a woman’s life.

It’s just not for me. In the end, isn’t it better that I don’t have kids if I don’t want them rather than having them even though I don’t want them?

 

 

Power is Taking Up Your Own Space

“Wow!” the exclamation slips out almost before the doctor realizes she’s said it. She side-eyes me then looks back down at the paperwork. “You’ve gained a lot of weight this year.”

I feel a squirming in my stomach. Even though I’m not unaware of the fact that the scale has climbed a good 25 pounds (and I’ve complained about it to the doctors who have been working with me on my iron levels), this is the first time that a doctor has actually commented on it.

Perhaps in response to something on my face, she hastens on, “You’re not overweight yet. You’re at the top range of your BMI. But it’s a significant change, and if you gain anymore you will be overweight.”

Shame. Internally, I realize I couldn’t have prevented the weight gain and that gaining weight doesn’t necessarily make me unhealthy, nevertheless I feel the burning of her judgment. She accepts my explanation of my health challenges and drops the topic, but I leave the office with a new burden. Time to lose weight, I guess.

************

Rewind back six months ago. I’m sitting in a guest lecture on a topic about which I’m passionate. The lecturer asks a question, and I eagerly raise my hand. She calls on me, and I chatter away happily as I’ve grown accustomed to doing in my other classes.

A few minutes later, I raise my hand again for a question, but the lecturer looks over me. When she poses another question, I hesitate but offer my hand when no one else does.

“Anyone else other than her?” the lecturer quips.

I quickly put my hand down, fighting off the shame by telling myself she probably just wants more involvement from others.

A few minutes later, she poses another question. I don’t raise my hand. Nevertheless, she makes the same joking comment about anyone other than me answering.

Shame. I feel myself entirely shut down.

************

Fast forward back to the present. Many of my classes are smaller this semester, and I’m without a doubt the most vocal person there. Similarly at my internship, my co-intern is a very quiet person.

I feel huge, as a personality and as a person. It conflicts with my sense of self, which I perceive as a curious, exploratory, opinionated, passionate, and creative, but never overpowering or domineering.

But as my therapist pointed out, those are strong yet inaccurate word choices. I’m not walking around shoving people into lockers or telling them what they should believe or do. I’m not trying to control anyone or take away their ability to contribute to a discussion.

So what is it I’m feeling?

Visible.

And I hate it.

I relish vocalizing my opinion in a setting where that is met by interested discussion from others—when the center of attention is on the ideas.

But when the attention is drawn to me, either because someone calls it to me as the lecturer did or because no one else is matching my energy, then I feel inappropriately…big.

Some of the traditional criticism of the unhealthy body ideals pushed at women touches on the idea that women are pressured to take up as little space as possible, and I feel that pressure on an intellectual as well as a physical level.

After struggling with the pressure to lose weight for my doctor’s approval for about a week, I chose to release the obligation. I chose to allow myself to be larger than others determined I “should” be during this year of my graduate school. I don’t want to be obsessed with a number on a scale or a BMI range that is arbitrary anyway. I want to be focused on being healthy, but I already am doing that. I don’t need to lose weight to do that.

It felt like a rebellious move to some extent. It’s one thing to feel like I am gaining weight and can’t control it, but would if I could.

It’s an entirely different thing to decide that I don’t care, that others don’t get to determine what my body should look like, and that I’m okay just the way I am.

It’s powerful.

I’ve been on an exploration of the meaning of power, and I realize that I’ve been holding myself back–withholding permission to take up space, trying to maintain the ability to be invisible when others don’t want to have to see me.

I am a strong personality. There are other words that come to mind to describe that, words that carry the connotation that being a strong personality–being visible–is bad. I refuse to use those words anymore though.

Join the Radical Self-Care Revolution

Radical self-care is my thing right now. I’m on a mission to become a self-care superheroine.

I’m not talking about the kind of self-care that your boss tells you to do when you’re overworked and stressed out because of all the demands he/she has placed on you. Nor am I talking about the kind of self-care that health care workers advocate when they lack the time or empathy to try to understand what you’re experiencing but also don’t want to come across as a callous robot. Nor is it the typical self-care that you might hear people talking about when they grant a luxurious or pampering experience to themselves once or twice a year.

Radical self-care might sometimes involve taking a bath, sipping some tea, taking a day off, or getting a massage…but it’s not primarily about making myself “feel better” or rejuvenating my energy just before charging back into the fray of life.

It’s about a owning myself, my needs, and my responsibility for those needs. Radical self-care is about developing a deep intuition about what’s going on “inside” and a commitment to caring for myself even when it doesn’t feel good…or even look good to others.

(For all the hype that our society has around self-care, it’s often shocking to me how much others don’t really want us to take care of ourselves when it means setting aside obligations, saying no to demands, or holding a firm boundary.)

As I head into my second year of graduate school, with internship, classes, and a couple side jobs, I know there will come a day when I’m faced with the choice to finish a project or get sleep, to hole up to do an obscene amount of reading or spend time with loved ones, to call in sick or muscle through the day with a sore throat and upset stomach.

And I’m going to have to be prepared to make the judgment calls of what I need most. I’m going to have to be ready to piss people off when meeting that “most” need conflicts with something someone else wants or expects.

I am my home base—my own foundation. Everything I do stems from the core of me. I need to be radical about self-care because I recognize that if things aren’t good in my foundation, they can’t be good elsewhere in life. The only way I can do anything worthwhile long-term for anyone else is if I am providing myself the space and permission to meet my own needs.

Burnout shouldn’t be an expected part of life; it should be an indication of a lack of taking care of oneself. Unfortunately we live in a society where many professional and academic fields recognize that self-care is essential but treat burnout as inevitable. They’re set up so that it’s impossible to take care of oneself sufficiently enough to avoid burnout. Self-care becomes a tool of oppressing people rather than the tool of nurturing them. It becomes an excuse to avoid looking at the systemic ways that people are treated rather than a form of empowering people to demand to be treated with dignity and concern for their well-being.

Which makes radical self-care a revolutionary act. By committing to taking care of my needs (and by holding my boundaries), no matter what, I am refusing to participate in that paradigm. Right now, the ability to be radical about self-care is somewhat of a privileged position, but the more people commit to self-care, the more people will be able to consider committing. This is a social justice mission, but it’s one that fundamentally has to start with concern for and commitment to…yourself.