Widgets Magazine


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: The tricks and treats of Halloween

Forget midterms. For the past month, my Halloween costume has been the major source of stress in my life.

When I first arrived at Stanford, it had been four years since I had actually dressed up for Halloween — I had given up costumes along with trick-or-treating as a high school freshman. Boy, was I in for a shock! Unlike the carefree days of childhood when I relished dressing up as a picnic table or as the Y2K bug, I was suddenly confronted by the quintessential female dilemma between a costume that says, “I’m hot but have no self-respect” versus “I’m clever but sadly unattractive.” As Lindsay Lohan quipped of her female peers, on Halloween, “the hardcore girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears.” In an ideal world, we’d have that perfect intersection of clever enough to be spunky and stand out, but still cute and pretty. But it’s such a fine line to walk, and one that expends a huge amount of mental energy.

I had to adapt quickly. Living on a campus that is undeniably obsessed with costumes means that I’ve been to more themed parties than I can count. At one point during sophomore year, I was probably in costume more evenings than not! So, Halloween costumes aren’t exactly uncharted territory for students who dig through their rally boxes for Band Run, special dinners and progressives on an almost daily basis. (In fact, I’m pretty much convinced that one of the secret requirements for all Stanford admits is a latent passion for dressing up in crazy costumes.)

Costumes should be — and are! — fun. It’s our own obsession with looking good and hooking up that has superimposed all this stress on dressing up. Yes, Halloween does give us carte blanche to be as slutty or as irreverent as we want, but that’s not the main reason behind its appeal.

Clear away all the partying and sexuality around costumes, and what we’re left with is the pure essence of childhood. Most all of us had “dress-up boxes” of costume jewelry and fake fur! And I’m pretty sure that riffling through your family scrapbook will ultimately produce a picture of your one-year-old swaddled in a pumpkin costume whose contours matched your chubby cheeks. On Halloween night, I distinctly remember the unbridled ecstasy of being allowed to stay out late that almost rivaled my anticipation of Christmas Eve. And don’t even get me started on the massive candy swap the next day at school! It was like Wall Street had suddenly invaded the lunchroom! (As I recall, demand ran high for Snickers and Reese’s while Mounds always got sidelined.)

Those are the memories that Halloween conjures up for me. But it represents something far greater. Putting on a Halloween costume is like catching a glimpse of your childhood self. It harkens back to the illustrious “golden era of childhood,” when things were actually a lot simpler than they are now.

The comfort we can derive from childhood memories is unbelievably powerful. Although some people have more than others, it’s pretty rare to find a person completely devoid of a single, cheesy, happy-go-lucky childhood memory; we all have something to draw upon for comfort. Whether it’s a favorite childhood book that you’ve read too many times to count (for me, anything by Roald Dahl) or watching your favorite Disney movie and belting out every song lyric, we channel our childhoods in so many different ways. There are times when I come home for winter break and sit down to an eight-hour marathon of playing Age of Empires on my old desktop computer. Whenever I see someone doing a jigsaw puzzle, I literally cannot contain my joy. And no matter what, tree-climbing will always remain one of my favorite activities of all time.

There’s a reason why adults return to the things they loved as part of their childhood. That kid who was always digging in the sandbox might end up as a famous archaeologist, and the sports you loved as a child are often the ones you’ll enjoy throughout your life. When you reconnect with what you loved as a child, you’re actually more able to enjoy life as an adult!

So whether it’s keeping a stuffed animal you’ve had since you were two on your bed or playing a favorite family board game or turning your passion for creepy critters into a career, find a way to channel your childhood into your life. When you do recall those happiest of memories, you settle into your healthiest mentality. Getting in touch with your childhood self doesn’t mean you’re immature, it’s a part of identifying your true self!

Even though my next Halloween won’t be on the Farm, I don’t doubt that the underlying tensions will stay the same. And while it’s hard to avoid playing into the roles that our costumes typecast for us, I always think about my four-year-old self.

Would she really want me to wear that?

That’s what I thought.

Want to know what Leslie was for Halloween this year? Email her at labrian “at” stanford “dot” edu.