My Eating Disorder Made Me Hate Halloween
There are two types of people in this world. Those who love Halloween, spending a month planning the perfect costume to wear to all the town hopping parties about town…
And then there’s the rest of us, who would rather hide in a dark basement with Pennywise and trade life stories with an evil clown than remotely spend a moment putting on a costume.
I cringe at the word ‘costume’ (if you can’t tell, I’m the latter) and detest this time of year. Always have. In fact, one time, I dated someone who mentioned they hated Halloween, and even though the affair lasted only a couple of months, I think our mutual disdain for costume shopping kept us together that long.
Anyways, I digress.
It’s a strong opinion, I get it, to hate Halloween. But, it’s not the witches or the annual Hocus Pocus re-run, or the black cat meows that I don’t like…
It’s the costumes.
And yes, I’m sure it has something to do with my eating disorder.
It all started as a teenager, right? I lived in this weird reality where every female in my social circle often created costumes that were less about being clever or cute and more about being … attractive.
As a kid, I genuinely enjoyed Halloween. My mom was adorable when it came to helping me with costumes. I remember begging to be Rose from Titanic in 1999, and she went as far as to make me a lifejacket for the costume, and I won first place for ‘most creative’ (all thanks to my mom, of course.)
But, those wholesome costumes and cute ideas faded as I reached pre-teen. And it speaks to the 1990s for sure. Back then, in my early teens, there was a lot of pressure amongst my friends and our upbringing to be physically attractive, which translated entirely over into the Halloween festivities. I grew up with the horrible People Magazine, US Weekly, Cosmopolitan articles that would showcase what that year’s sexy costumes could be and all their constant marketing at female teens and how we should look. I bought into it endlessly.
I remember vividly, year after year, friends arguing over which costumes would make us all look “sexy.” We never said that outright, like we never actually talked about how ‘sexy’ we felt we needed to be, but it was hinted at in its own ways. Basically, if you came dressed as Mr. Potatohead, you most certainly would be made fun of endlessly, and not in a collaborative way but in the “omg can’t believe she’s wearing that” way.
This trend continued, even exacerbated, in college when I remember fraternity guys joking they wouldn’t let certain women into the parties if they weren’t dressed a certain way for the Halloween bash. Suddenly, there was pressure to not only be sexy with our costumes but be approvable-sexy by 19-year old men in a frat house.
Not only did this put a lot of pressure on my self-identifying female circle, I’m sure (though I can only speak to my personal experience of course) but it led to much anxiety in my teens and 20s. This was long before Instagram #bodypositivity or the wave of #MeToo came into our consciousness. Back then, it was expected. Normalized.
And I always felt uncomfortable. No matter if I was Dorothy from Wizard of Oz or some version of an angel with relatively little clothing but a big halo. I felt like a fraud, like I wasn’t myself. And like I was playing a part for someone else’s approval.
When the eating disorder worsened over the years, it only put more pressure on Halloween. And it wasn’t just me. I remember friends of mine “dieting” up until Halloween parties because they were nervous about how they’d look in their corset or whatever tight brasserie they’d bought. I’d work out for hours leading up to whatever event I had planned to attend.
It felt like I was in constant competition mode. To be sexy. And even though I’m now 32 and many years removed from those younger Halloween festivities, I don’t think the feeling and narrative of not being enough, being sexy enough, being X enough to ‘pull something off’ has ever really left. I just notice it now and choose not to engage.
Life’s different today, of course. I’m in my 30s, and my friends dress their babies instead of themselves for the annual Halloween neighborhood parade. But the traditions of Halloween still remain uncomfortable. In my eating disorder, I took myself so seriously. I was so worried about not looking right or wearing the right thing, people not liking me, saying something ‘wrong’ in a social setting, or even overeating. Halloween was this extra weird holiday where I had to pretend to be something I wasn’t, which was double harder than just existing like normal.
Maybe that’s what it’s really evolved into now. Even though it’s not about being the sexiest, I still don’t like Halloween because every year I am still invited to adult Halloween parties where we’re meant to come up with something clever to match the Halloween theme.
It feels like this insane pressure to now be ‘clever’ about what my costume is or have some date or partner with coordinating costumes. It still gives me much anxiety - the trying to have a ‘cute and clever’ costume thing. At best, people nod and say, “nice costume.” At worst, I awkwardly have to explain what my costume is before slinking away from the convo.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to dress up like some TV sitcom character. I only like being me now, an adult and in recovery. I don’t want to play a role. I played a role for ten years in my eating disorder.
I’d rather show up as myself, in an outfit that represents me, and who I am becoming. As I sit here in Paris, France, sipping a cafe au lait, living out a dream, I don’t think I could’ve been present for ten years ago, when everything I ate - when every choice I made - was about being attractive and likable to everyone else.
For that reason alone, I’ll continue to skip Halloween. If anything, to take my own identity back.