Self-Tokenism and Processing Halloween

So Halloween!

When I first came to Canada, a friend of mine made me a pair of cat ears cut out from a tissue box and made black with black marker pen, stapled it to a headband, and I dressed in black with a large pair of fuzzy gloves. Thus, did I spend my first Halloween as a cat. We mostly hung out in the dorms, since most of my friends weren't old enough to hit the bars yet. I got pictures taken. Not very good ones.

The next year, I thought I better put some effort into looking good, and bought a pinafore when I was in Malaysia over summer. Yes. A secondary school uniform. High school uniform. What did I go as? Random Asian Schoolgirl. Had my hair up in pigtails and everything! (My BFF, as I recall, went as an emo chick - argyle skirt and long stockings and effin' big emo frames.) I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea, but looking back it was utterly an example of tokenizing myself, because I didn't know better. Halloween's a time to dress up, right? As... something, anyway. As something we're not. So I figured, I'm not an Asian schoolgir, and it would be so stereotypical.

Alas, I fed that stereotype.

I don't remember what I went as in my third year of Halloween. But I got into a fight, I think, with my BFF over the fact that generally, I dressed frumpily and she thought I should dress nicer all the time. I was not happy at being judged by my appearance! Especially by the person who's supposed to be my best friend! WTF, BFF! You were supposed to be on my side! Much angst followed.

I don't remember what I did for fourth year onward, but I think I was pretty much done with the whole concept. It was too much trouble putting together a costume. It was right before NaNoWriMo started and I wanted to save my energy and excitement for that.

But it's only now occurred to me just how much pressure there is to look like effort was put in for Halloween - either for the sexiness factor, or just in terms of how much work someone has put into a costume. It seems rather like a lot of energy. People keep asking me what I'm going to be for Halloween and I just can't be arsed to answer anymore. What am I going to say? Maybe I should wear a Toronto Maple Leafs shirt and call myself a Canadian.

But that's tiresome, this whole effort of being something I'm not. Haven't I played that role all my life? What is it about Halloween that makes everyone here in North America want to participate in it? Is it because we have the agency this time to choose the roles we want, instead of being forced into it? Isn't that kind of odd and, well, tragic?


  1. Halloween is much older than the way it is celebrated in the US and Canada (with the costumes). Driving out evil spirits wearing scary costumes is one aspect of spring celebrations that somehow wandered over (from carnival to Halloween).
    But the three days of Halloween celebration were originally more a time for reflection, or thinking of your ancestors that passed on and of reconciling yourself with the dark times ahead, combatting them defiantly with warm lights. You can still see traces of this more lovely side (I think) of Halloween in some family celebrations. It is one of my fav celebrations of the year, with my friends, and we have never dressed up for it. Well, put on some skeleton earrings and black clothes, maybe. But that is just a fond remembrance of our teen selves ;-)


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