Halloween was a big deal to our family. My mother made three costumes each year, one each for my brothers and myself. My father would participate by drunkenly telling us that we were going to hell for celebrating Satan's holiday--as if we weren't more excited by candy and dressing up.
The costumes were a big deal. We'd start about a month in advance, picking up supplies and piecing together our dreams. This exuberance went on longer than it probably should have, as evidenced by the lack of interest my classmates had by the fifth grade (they were busy "going around" with each other. Do you remember "going around"? I don't, because I was still carrying around Barbies in my backpack). No more pumpkin-shaped trick or treat buckets brought to school, and certainly no more costumes! Babies.
By the sixth grade, my mother was teaching me how to sew, and one of our first projects together was my Halloween costume that year-- Betty Rubble. I had my mother curl my short, dark, bob haircut and we made a papier mache bone bow to top it off. My dress was blue, short, and fun! I was a ball of smiles as my brothers, mother, and I walked out of the house, my father screaming, "God will not forget! You can still change!"
What I forgot was, in fact, that I was a girl smack-dab in the middle of my awkward phase. At age 11, I had already reached my full height of 5'7...and I still didn't need a training bra. At that point I was taking three-hour long ballet classes four days a week (serious business, I can't even tell you!) and my body was akin to a bamboo rod. By all accounts, I was a smiling, lean, scarecrow.
So I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened next.
By the time eight thirty rolled around that evening, we had made the rounds at the local church Halloween fair, and started our trick or treating in the neighborhood. It was dark, but there were still a few people milling around. Our mother waited in the car while we kn0cked on doors.
I only remember one exchange that evening, and it'll probably stay with me forever.
A woman--don't really remember anything remarkable about her--opened her door after she heard our polite knocking. She was hit with three grinning kids--one Betty Rubble, one spider, and one pirate. "Trick or treat!" we greeted her, in unison.
She looked us over, and her gaze stopped on me.
"You're a boy," she said, obviously perplexed and disgusted by me. Her eyes narrowed. This "boy" in a dress thing was obviously not ok.
It was the first time I felt like my body had betrayed me.
I tried to smile. "No, no, I'm Betty Rubble!" I tried to squeak out.
"Right", she retorted, quickly shutting the door. The porch light went out.
My two little brothers burst out in laughter. We got into the car where my mother asked what had happened. The laughter got louder and I got quieter.
I've had tiny reconciliations since then. It was a conservative neighborhood in Clovis, California, where people are phobic to the max and looking out for anything that might threaten their safe, coddled existence. I was so effing awkward. It was later at night and she had three glasses of wine 15 minutes before we showed up.
Or maybe I just wasn't yet entirely in control of my body, my look, my particular sort of amazingness.
I'm not going to get into the societal sadness that this might bring to commentary-- I think that's another blog. I can safely say that I think about this moment--about that woman, about how my heart sunk, about how I never want another person to make me feel that way again about how I look when it's already established that I'm happy about how I look--that's what I think about when I choose my clothes. It sometimes pops into my head when I'm taking photos for my What I Wore posts. It can come to mind when I see someone on the street wearing something original, ugly, beautiful, or unpractical. It's part of why I nerd out on every outfit Lady Gaga wears.
Since that moment, I've worked to become the person who's happy and confident with who she is. Clothing is temporal and easy, style is evasive and thought-provoking. And while I'm not the most avant-garde dresser, I put effort into cultivating a relationship between my brain and the way I present myself.
I'm grateful for that Clovis woman. I'm grateful for the little crack of heartbreak, and the impending realization that I would be in charge of my costuming on a daily basis.
I encourage you to be brave, too.
Building Up An Appetite is currently available for sale on Etsy.