The Masks We Wear

Halloween“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde

Halloween is once again upon us. Homes and businesses are decorated with cobwebs, witches and ghosts with a goblin or two thrown in for good measure. Grinning and leering pumpkins are lighting the dark porches of many of the homes I pass as I drive by in the evenings.

In my youth, Halloween was a day for children to dress up and beg for candy at as many homes as their feet could carry them. Who went the furthest and got the most candy was widely discussed the day after the trick-or-treating rampage. Adults were the people who handed out candy, they most certainly didn’t escort any child over the age of 7 in the quest for sugar.

     “…modern Halloween has become less about literal ghosts and ghouls and more about costumes and candy. The Celts used the day to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and also believed that this transition between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead.  Over the millennia the holiday transitioned from a somber pagan ritual to a day of merriment, costumes, parades and sweet treats for children and adults.” –

In the years that have passed since my long ago childhood, the holiday has gone from being the children’s candy feast of my childhood to being a strictly chaperoned event with parties replacing the old-fashioned door to door festivities. As it has evolved into a more adult driven celebration, it is now rated second behind Christmas in popularity. It is also the second most decorated holiday behind Christmas.

     Today’s Halloween customs are also thought to have been influenced by Christian dogma and practices derived from it. Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian holy days of All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’ or Hallowmas) on 1 November and All Souls’ Day on 2 November, thus giving the holiday on 31 October the full name of All Hallows’ Eve (meaning the evening before All Hallows’ Day) – Rogers, Nicholas (2002). Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night

I am especially fascinated by the aspect of dressing up and wearing masks for Halloween. In thinking about it, two questions kept echoing in my mind: What are the masks I wear every day? What are the masks you wear every day?

     Presenting a certain face to the world is something that most people are very familiar with. The different masks that people wear in the course of a day act as a social disguise and help them to get through a variety of situations. –

I personally am not a big fan of Halloween. I don’t like being scared and I am not comfortable in a costume. The last time I dressed up for Halloween I spilled good whiskey while wearing an eye-patch as part of a pirate costume. I vowed then that I would never again dress in costume.

More important than the party foul of spilling my drink, I am just not comfortable wearing a costume. I am comfortable being who I am. We are all multi-faceted human beings and I am blessed to be one who, for the most part, feels comfortable expressing each of those facets as they surface. I have had moments in my life when I cared what other people thought, but not very often. I truly don’t remember that particular fear influencing me since I left my teens.

While I proudly tell you that I am comfortable in my own skin and don’t need to pretend to be someone or something else.  I also will tell you that I wear makeup almost every day. That seems to be a bit of a contradiction when I really think about it. In many ways, makeup is a daily mask that many women don. We apply foundation to give us a smooth, single color surface so we can apply the face we want over the one we’ve acquired through genetics and the life-choices we’ve made. We then add colors to bring out the contours and features we want the world to notice most. Cheeks are slimmed, eyes are made larger and lips are made fuller. We can even expand this notion to our hair; the cut, color and length can all change how we appear to the world. The more confident and secure I feel, the less make-up I wear. Cheers to the lucky man who makes me feel so secure he gets to see me without anything on my face but a smile.

     We all wear masks at some time in our lives—it’s part of human nature. The problem comes when masks become the norm and we lose ourselves in the process of trying to please others. It is important to have self-awareness about the different masks we wear and the reasons behind it– recognizing the masks we wear is one way to make sure that they do not gain control of our true “self.” –

 I have focused on  women and how we put on masks and costumes to present ourselves to society because, as a woman, this is what I’m familiar with. However, men are not exempt from this mentality. They may not put on make-up or worry whether an outfit is too sexy or not sexy enough, but they put on costumes every day too. Doesn’t everyone have “work clothes,” “casual clothes” and “workout clothes?” We put on the clothes or costumes that are appropriate to how we want to present ourselves to the world every day.

     The custom of wearing costumes has been explicated by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities” – “Eve of All Saints”, Using Common Worship: Times and Seasons – All Saints to Candlemas (David Kennedy)

A lot has been written about the “naughty girl” phenomenon that has infiltrated our Halloween celebrations. I am amazed that our society still has sexuality issues to the degree that women feel they can only be in touch with their sexuality while in costume. Or at least in touch with the “naughty” side of their sexuality.

I have friends who love Halloween and dressing up. They have said that the costumes allow them to be someone they’re not comfortable being in their real life. I have one friend who has an entire walk-in closet devoted to her Halloween costumes. Another friend usually has multiple costumes each year so she can look different at each party she goes to. This thought process is difficult for me to relate to.

On Halloween night, I will be at home, in my jammies watching a movie that makes me laugh, not one that tries to scare me. I will smile at the young children who dress up and go door to door. However you choose to celebrate, have fun, be safe and be sure that your mask is one you choose for the evening, not one that society has chosen for you.



What are your thoughts?