Core Decorum: Costumes

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang

Halloween is a rather delightful celebration. What other day of the year can adults pretend to be a zombie bride, a fairy or a leopard in a socially acceptable manner? 

The holiday can be fairly harmless, and we must all admit that there is nothing more adorable than a baby dressed up like a pumpkin or a pirate. Yet, the idea of concealing one’s self and masking the person is a theme worth reflecting on. 

The past two years have revealed much about our society’s fear of being seen. Regardless of your personal opinion on the role of masking for disease, it is clear that some individuals were and still are perfectly happy to cover their face so as to limit exposure to others or to hide themselves. 

Even fashion and beauty trends around tattooing and body modifications seem more ubiquitous than five years ago. None of these choices are bad per se or in isolation, but they do indicate a shift in norms surrounding how we understand our very selves. 

The body reflects the soul and more wholly, the person. What we do, say and wear sends a message that hints at the content of our character. 

A certain costume or wearing a mask certainly does not define you entirely. Yet, Aristotle describes virtue as forming the kind of moral person that you become. A person who performs courageous acts habitually becomes a courageous person, because what we do forms who we are. 

Judging by appearance does not give a total impression, but it serves a purpose. This is why I find some societal developments particularly troubling. The fact that we are willing to wear scanty clothing regardless of occasions, cover our arms with ink and allow for self-expression that results in inhuman appearance carries some kind of message about how we view ourselves.

We live in a dualistic society in which the body is the tool of the mind and can be pierced, prodded and presented in whatever way one desires — without limit. Cultural norms around dress vary, to be sure. What is changing, though, is the novelty of trends which intend to be provocative by nature and turn the human face into a caricature in which features are obscured.

This behavior does not promote a humanistic, dignified ethic. Rather, we perceive the human body as an object and further as something that can be manipulated in an attempt to quell our raging restlessness. If we truly hold that the human person is beautiful and good by nature and in every natural bodily manifestation, we must discourage excessive modification or radical presentation.

Perhaps our Halloween spirit is spilling over into our everydayness. Costumes are joyful expressions of community and playfulness. They remind us that life is in some ways fantastical and absurd, full of things strange, beautiful and even scary. But they must provide a kind of contrast, not become who we are. 

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