There are lots of theories as to why people dress up they way they do on Halloween. Some state that the act of donning a costume is an act of deindividualization or the loss of one’s sense of self and the embrace of anonymity. Research has shown that the effects of anonymity often result in less inhibition, and greater ability to perform anxiety provoking tasks. In the modern age, the liberation of online anonymity can have very positive effects (e.g. finding supportive online communities) and very negative effects (e.g. cyberbullying). The draw to anonymity can be very powerful.
Others have suggested that the power of Halloween and donning a costume lies in the ability to enact the opposite polarity of a person’s personality, a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde effect of sorts. We all know a person who dresses as a character or personality that is basically the opposite of how the person presents themselves on a day to day basis. The power of Halloween, then, is in its ability to activate aspects of our personality that are typically dormant.
I think that these hypotheses are true to a certain extent, but they don’t seem to focus on why Halloween allows for such expression. It is a special day in the year that invites escapism and welcomes the belief in the mystical, the supernatural, and the unexplainable. It’s not merely a celebration of the macabre, but also a celebration of fantasy, imagination, and unbridled expression. It is a reaction against the humdrum of day to day life. Halloween as a holiday is counter-cultural, sanctioning a day to break “normal” cultural standards.
The power of Halloween is in the society wide lifting of social norms. That is what allows us to explore polarities, break gender norms, break sexuality norms, break boundaries, embrace the “dark side”, and explore hyperbolic expression. It’s a day of necessary liberation that raises the question, is our society so restrictive that we need a day of sanctioned and unbridled release? To me the answer is a resounding “YES!!” Our society polices everything from our race, sexual identity, gender identity and gender presentation, to what our interests are, how much sex we should be having, and what kind of music we should be listening to. Every day, our existence is policed by these hidden (and not so hidden) norms and it is exhausting.
What Halloween does is expose the fractures in our being, the sides left unturned, the poles left unexpressed, and the interests left unexplored. It shows us that we might be like if we and society allowed us to be free of constraints. It shows us that who we are is not always boxed into the constraints of society. We are all varied, nuanced, unique individuals that deserve to live in all our nuance, variety, and multiplicity of eccentricities.
So, how do we live like Halloween every day? Why is it that we relegate all these facets of ourselves to this one day in the year? What would it be like if we could live authentically, all the time? Why don’t we?
This Halloween, I think it’s important to recognize that amazing feeling of exploration and freedom that comes from the dissolution of social norms. I think it’s even more important to think about how we can translate that sense of freedom to our everyday life, how we can live authentically and wholly ourselves in all our weird and interesting facets. I hope that this Halloween, we can integrate ourselves and the spirit of Halloween into our daily lives. You deserve to be uniquely you every day!
KIP Graduate Intern