One of my favorite Halloween memories is of my mom helping my brother and me with our recycling bin and butterfly costumes. I was the butterfly, of course.
Just the idea that for one day you can be anything or anyone you want, even a butterfly, has always appealed to me. Obviously being happy with who you are and loving yourself unconditionally is the most important thing, but it’s still fun to play dress up and pretend to be someone else. To let a part of yourself run free.
It’s healthy, and often cathartic, to indulge your creative side or wear a mask, whether it be funny, scary or simply another person.
Sometimes, however, that ‘being someone else’ thing can show off a less creative side of ourselves — the fear, ignorance and insecurity side. For example, here are some more recent costumes I’ve seen: Trayvon Martin, Bill Cosby and post-breakdown Brittany Spears, to name a few. And Julianne Hough may never live down her choice to portray a character from the TV show, Orange is the New Black, using blackface makeup.
What do those costumes say about ourselves? They are certainly scary costumes, at least to me, and not at all funny. It frightens me, and disappoints me, that someone could think racism, or rape, or mental illness is funny.
The lack of empathy (and the narcissism) necessary to think that getting a laugh at a party is more important than the actual issue of, let’s say, mental illness, is also disturbing.
Recently, many costuming sites have removed “escaped mental patient,” “gone mental,” and “mental asylum” costumes from their sites, because they depict a stereotypical “crazy” person as being violent, scary and criminal.
The reality is, most people suffering from mental illness are just normal people. They look like you, me, your sister, your neighbor, your co-worker. And they are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators.
Mental Health America stated in a recent article that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. Yet the stigma around mental illness prevents many people from seeking the treatment they so desperately need. Removing these costumes is a small step, one among many, toward changing the perception of mental illness.
This Halloween, I encourage everyone to be butterflies. Fly free, but be considerate of your fellow human beings. Think about who you are, and who you really want to be. Spread candy, fun and acceptance. Because any of us, at any time, could find ourselves coping with an issue we don’t want to mask.