Halloween, Masks & a Little Bit of Self-Acceptance Magic

Halloween, Masks & a Little Bit of Self-Acceptance Magic

Simon Forsyth


Halloween masks


If I dress up as anything for Halloween this year, it’ll be as a cowboy, but more on that later. Whether it’s a white sheet with holes for eyes or a spectacular Heidi Klum-esque affair, donning a costume or mask on All Hallows Eve is a fun and easily accessible opportunity to turn oneself into something else, at least for a short period of time. Of course, the wearing of masks is not something confined to late October though. Whether we like it or not, and whether we are always aware of it or not, the fact is we all have a veritable parade of masks, or personas, that we constantly chop and change out of.


The idea of being 100% authentic all the time might seem like a noble idea but in reality society has become used to a certain degree of inauthenticity, for various reasons. Have you ever gave about the food/service in a restaurant to your dining partner but said everything was great when the waiter came over? Have you ever slapped on a smile to spare a loved one’s feelings upon opening, say, a pair of hideous novelty socks? Have you ever been feeling a little out of sorts but told your colleagues that you’re fine? These are all relatively innocuous situations but illustrate how fluidly one can wear a mask to conceal the truth, and far more frequently than just one night of the year.


One area of existence that has perhaps become rather more conducive to mask-wearing than others is the online world. Armed with a keyboard, some photos, an array of emojis, and, crucially, a physical distance between these representations of our realities and the people they are being transmitted to, social media is the ideal place to construct alternate versions of ourselves and present what we want, how we want it, when we want it. Maybe the next question should be, why do we want that? Is the idea of not wearing some kind of mask online so scary, or does it just come with the territory? I am often amazed at how, for example, self-posted images of celebrities without make-up are received with equal measures of astonishment and admiration, as if the idea of not wearing make-up, of not wearing that particular type of mask, was some kind of radical new discovery. We have become so accustomed to ‘painted faces’ of all kinds that seeing someone operate at a level beyond that boundary can seem almost revolutionary, but why should that be the case?


Having had my own extended negative experience of wearing a mask before I came out as gay, I had long been sceptical of social media for its seemingly inherent fostering of persona-construction. However, last year I caved and gave Twitter a try. For a few months I was hooked, checking posts throughout the day, witnessing all manner of temporary excitements and largely pointless disagreements, and every now and then tossing my own carefully worded hat into the ring, to near-universal indifference from the masses. A little anxiety kicked in then – what was I doing wrong? Was I not funny enough? Were my contributions so worthless as to yield a measly one or two ‘likes’? Was there any point in continuing? Probably not, but continue I did for another while, trying that little bit harder to be MORE… whatever. Wittier, more insightful, more knowledgeable, more politically aware, more of a music snob than I really am – so many masks, so much time spent, and to what end?


I eventually deleted the app in an almost desperate moment of retaliation and liberation, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I felt like the character of Hester in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ Tearing the bright red ‘A’ that casts her as a ‘fallen woman’ off her smock, she experiences an ‘exquisite relief – she had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.’ Of course this sounds very dramatic but relief is the right word here – relief from that sense of self-imposed obligation to be an augmented, reengineered version of Simon, just to try and win the approval of others. If I ever make it back onto Twitter, I’m going to try to stick to my guns and do it as plain ol’ me. That way, if my posts don’t get ‘enough’ likes, then at least I won’t have wasted my time trying to make them like-worthy to begin with.


This brings us back to Halloween and the fact that this year I might dress up as a cowboy, in honour of my love of country music. Having spent years towing the line of the ‘serious music fan,’ mostly in my 20s, I would often, very purposefully, omit country from my list of favourite genres, unless it was something well-respected by the intelligentsia, of course (‘Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,’ for example). But no, I actually have a giant soft spot for country music in most of its forms, and often the cheesier and more old-fashioned the better. These days I’m happy to know that a fondness for honky-tonk is not something to be ashamed of and it shouldn’t be something to have a mask slapped on it either. To quote reigning country-pop queen and recent ‘Album of the Year’ Grammy-recipient Kacey Musgraves, ‘I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t.’ Now how’s that for a little self-acceptance magic?


So happy Halloween, y’all, and if you think you can safely do so, why not try experimenting with letting your everyday masks slip a little once the festivities are over?

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