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my "weird" halloween costumes

By Maddie Wray

In fourth grade, I dressed up for Halloween as Abby from the TV show NCIS.

NCIS, which (in my opinion) hit its peak in the mid-to-late-2000s, is a bit of a niche show to reference now, so allow me to contextualize. Abby Sciuto, played by actress Pauley Perrette, is a forensic scientist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. She was my favorite character, and I was obsessed with everything about her. Not only was she adorable and energetic, but she was  goth – I thought that was the coolest

So, naturally, I decided to be Abby for Halloween. My mom and I spent weeks gathering all the components for this costume. We bought a black wig, a lab coat, and a replica of the stuffed hippo that sits in her lab in the show. But the final touch was my hand-made cup for her signature drink, CafPow.

On Halloween morning, I got all done up, put on my wig, and was ready to show off my costume to my classmates. I complained to my mom about my purple backpack ruining the realism of the outfit, but once I got on the school bus, I was too excited to remember to care about this inconvenience.

When I walked into my classroom, I held my head high and put on my best Abby impression – I was beyond ready to spend the day as my favorite character.

One classmate immediately came up to me to ask who I was. I responded gleefully. I explained Abby’s (slightly morbid) job and how cool she was, expecting his excitement to match mine. Instead, he just looked at me like I had two heads, and not in a fun Halloween way.

With every additional confused question or judgemental comment from my peers, I deflated more and more. Kids told me, “That’s so weird,” “Who even is that?” and “That’s not a cool costume.” To an overly sensitive fourth grader, this was devastating.

I went home with a stomach full of candy, but an empty heart.

Now that I look back on this Halloween, my fourth grade class was probably not the target audience for NCIS and I shouldn’t have expected people to recognize my costume. But I wish they had reacted a little better because I truly gave my all to this costume and was so excited to show it off to my friends. Instead, I was just the weird kid – again. 

The next year, I surrendered to my anxieties about being judged and decided to dress up as “an 80s party girl.” For this costume I only bought a no-effort Party City costume, slapped on some blue eyeshadow and fishnet gloves, and called it a day.

In sixth grade, however, I decided I was ready to try again and be another character from my new favorite show, Doctor Who.

Doctor Who, the long-running cult classic British TV show, was something my whole family bonded over. We would watch the new episodes together every week and my sister and I even ran a painfully embarrassing fan account for the show on Instagram. My mom jumped at the opportunity to help me make another homemade costume. This time I wanted to be one of the most notorious villains from the show, the sinister alien Dalek race. We then spent months hand-crafting me a full Dalek dress inspired from a Pinterest post.My mom and I spray-painted halves of Easter eggs and hot-glued them onto the shiny gold fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics to make the body of the dress which my aunt then hand-sewed with boning. This time the final touches were two Dixie cups duct-taped to a headband to make my “antennae” and a whisk that would function as my “weapon.”

The dress was a labor of love, for the show and between my family, and I was thrilled with the final product.

As Halloween came closer and closer, I felt my anxieties from Halloween two years ago come creeping back. Suddenly terrified of being mocked again, I pivoted. I had made friends with a group of “cool girls” who were dressing up as characters from Alice in Wonderland, so a few days before the holiday, I shamefully asked if I could join in on their group costume. I bought another cheap Party City costume and left my gold Dalek dress abandoned in the back of my closet.

It’s now been ten years and I still vividly remember those Halloweens. I was always the weird kid with weird interests and weird ways of expressing them – but being told you were the “weird kid” (even when you were) is never fun.

Halloween, especially for kids, is often a time to show people what kinds of things you like (bear with me as I ignore traditional scary costumes). Whether you dressed as Hermione, or Boba Fett, or Cinderella, Halloween costumes were a signal that you thought something was cool. Even though I had some strange interests, I loved them and wanted to show them off. This was the one day of the year where I thought this was socially acceptable.

Thinking back on that year when I left that Dalek costume at home, I feel a twinge of sadness, and a hint of guilt. Not only do I feel guilty that I wasted all the love and work my family put into that costume, but I also feel guilty that I didn’t stay true to myself. Instead, I tried to conform to what other people would think was “cool” and not “weird.”

I’ve struggled for a long time to love my younger self. I call her weird, strange, odd, cringy. But the truth is, I was a kid who just loved things – and loved them hard.

I wish I could go back in time and sit down with sixth grade Maddie. I want to tell her that self-expression and self-confidence go way beyond just Halloween costumes. I want to tell her that she shouldn’t be afraid to show off the things she loves, just because other kids think they’re weird. I want to see her show up to school in a full Dalek costume and a purple backpack and explain to everyone who asks why she loves this show and thinks it’s cool. I want to tell her that one day she will be confident enough to love her weird things unashamedly.

Young Maddie was definitely a bit of a weirdo, but that should have been okay. Halloween is a time to be as weird as possible, and show off what you love. I still love Halloween to this day, and although I haven’t yet decided on a costume for this year, I kind of hope it’s something that no one understands but me.

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