It’s Halloween and all of the university students are dressing up for a night on the town. I’m sat on a bench outside a friend’s flat, waiting for her to finish up when a fellow student approaches me. He sat down beside me, looking me up and down. I thought, “Here we go. Just a guy trying to hit on me…” I was about to usher him away before he said in his drunken slur, “Your special effects are amazing, how did you do that?” To my amazement, I looked down and remembered that I had worn a dress that evening. I was stunned and nearly choked on my whiskey. I wallowed in my thoughts for a moment, struggling with what to say to him. How do you explain to someone that your ‘special effects’ are actually real?
Halloween is probably one of the most enjoyable and bizarre holidays of the year. I enjoyed many Halloweens: the sweets, the horror movies and it was another excuse to have a wild night out. I’ve dressed as all sorts – as a witch, a seductive vampire, a zombie, a werewolf. It was fun dressing up back in the day, where people dressed up as actual ‘monsters.’ It seems, though, that the term ‘monster’ has changed over the last few years.
The point of Halloween is to dress as disgustingly horrifying as you can – to scare the living daylights out of people. So, to some, it was super awesome when special effect makeup came into the spotlight, enabling you to look like a scary burn survivor, with gaping wounds. But wait, what? Now here is when I ask this question: Since when did people who suffered a near death experience become monsters? Well, it seems like I come into your new profound category of ‘monster.’
I endured third-degree burns as an infant due to a bath scald. The incident left me with 34% scarring to my body and amputations to my fingers and toes. I was left with 24-hours to live and I have carried the emotional and physical scars ever since. I have managed to deal with the stares and whispers all my life, but now, Halloween has just added to the struggle.
When people ‘dress up’ as a person, who has endured burns, I see myself. I see people shocked at the burns, and they are shocked at me. I hear people say ‘you look disgusting,’ and they are talking about me. I see people wanting to dress up as something horrible and disturbing – but they are dressing up as me.
I am being portrayed as monstrous – something to be scared of. But I can promise you, that as a burn survivor, I am neither scary or worth wearing. You are wearing someone who nearly lost their life; a person has endured the pain of over 50 operations and discrimination.
It takes many people with physical differences years to accept their disabilities. To me, my burns are my survivor marks, but due to many Halloweeners, I get told that I am terrifying. Am I that scary and horrifying that I can be made into a costume? That my pain can be imitated and humiliated?
It’s now that time of year where I see makeup tutorials uploaded onto social media, people making themselves into disfigured ‘monsters.’ The comments crawl in – ‘gruesome!’ The fact is, I wouldn’t go as myself to Halloween, so you shouldn’t go as me or the many hurt people you are imitating either.
My advice is dress as your ghosts and devils, your witches and others that take your fancy but don’t add to the stigma that we already face on a daily basis. We are not your ‘freakshow’ and we are certainly not to be afraid of.