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Editor Madeleine White's past Halloween costumes: Leela from Futurama, Little Mermaid from Disney, Squirrel Girl from Marvel, Princess Carolyn from BoJack Horseman.handout/The Globe and Mail

It was hard to miss the tail.

Last Halloween, I waltzed into my office wearing a grey spandex suit, a little orange wig with brown fuzzy ears and a 15-pound squirrel tail, which was almost proportionate to my 5-foot-10-inch frame.

Built with chicken wire, pillow stuffing and faux fur, the tail was the crowning jewel of my life’s work on Halloween costumes. It was ridiculous but it was worth it. I had turned my vision of becoming my favourite Marvel superhero, Squirrel Girl, into a reality.

I’m Madeleine White, an assignment editor on The Globe’s National news desk, and at 34, I’m a spooky, goofy Halloween geek. Every year around mid-September, my imagination revs up and I try to sort out what costume I’ll put together for this year’s Hallow’s Eve.

In years past I’ve been Joan from Mad Men (my dog was dressed as a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes), Leela from Futurama (the logistics of becoming a cyclops were challenging!) and Princess Carolyn from BoJack Horseman (it took a while to wash off all of the pink body paint). If you see Sabrina the Teenage Witch wandering your neighbourhood this Halloween with a full-grown man dressed as her loyal feline companion, Salem, that would be me (with my spouse, decked out as the cat).

A few weeks ago, Amplify editor Sarah Bugden asked me why I always dress up for what is generally thought of as a kids’ holiday. I had to pause. I didn’t have an insightful answer, beyond …'cause it’s fun?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, really, Halloween isn’t the only day I wear a costume. It’s just that on all the other days of the year, I’m doing it unconsciously. Societal standards, familial expectations and personal pressures can create a very prescriptive, performative life. We “dress up” for various work and social scenarios all the time, even though, many of these costumes we don’t actively choose. We just do it because we feel it is expected of us – just as most of us present our gender identities in certain ways.

But as one of my women’s studies professors at university told me all those years ago: Gender is a performance, one that is malleable. And that’s a notion I wholeheartedly believe – from how we style our hair to how we modulate our voices. Now I live by the words of drag legend RuPaul: “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.” (There is a reason why Halloween is lovingly known as Gay Christmas.)

But while I am totally on board with ditching the imposed boundaries of gender, on Halloween and every other day of the year, I’m bored of the lazy trend of the “sexy costume," invariably for women. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favour of women wearing as little or as much as they want. But I remain unimpressed with the idea that adult women’s Halloween costumes should be just a skimpy version of “insert occupation here.” As Globe columnist Elizabeth Renzetti so eloquently put it: “I live for the day when the last sexy costume is designed at the sexy costume factory and the designers all say, ‘Well, that’s it then, we’ve gone as far as we can go,’ then put away their sewing machines and bits of garter. What will that last costume be? Sexy actuary? Sexy gerontologist? Sexy large animal veterinarian?”

Grossly, this epidemic has even infected younger trick-or-treaters, as writer and parent Raine Delisle discovered. A few years ago, her daughter wanted to be a firefighter. Awesome, right? Sure, until Delisle spied a firefighter costume for girls. She described it as “a skin-tight, short, shiny dress that’s surely flammable.” Beyond sexually objectifying a child (which is horrifying), these costumes do a disservice to actual female firefighters, Delisle pointed out – something all “sexy” costumes manage to achieve, I’d argue.

Yes, Halloween is the ultimate performative moment. But, while the freedom it provides is liberating, it’s also ripe with problematic possibilities. Along with all those poorly conceived “sexy” costumes, cultural appropriation is a perennial Halloween occurrence. As Justin Trudeau can tell you, there is such a thing as a bad costume decision. (A good list of bad Halloween costume ideas can be found here.)

Getting back to Sarah’s question – ultimately, Halloween gives me a chance to explore different parts of my identity, imagined or otherwise. And as Antonia Martinelli pointed out for Ms. Magazine, this is one of the empowering elements of the holiday for kids: “ … Halloween is preliminary vocational exploration. There are many theories of child development, but what many have in common is that roughly before the age of 12, a child’s mind is a no commitment imagination lab.”

I’m not sure why, as we get older, so many of us limit the imaginative liberty that Halloween costumes provide. I, for one, am happy to use the day to flex a different side of my personality or just have a little silly fun. Or both, in the case of my memorable (if I say so myself) squirrel-tailed super hero costume.

What else we’re thinking about:

As mentioned, last year I dressed up as the titular character of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for Halloween and used the day to be an evangelist for the comic book. In my job as a news editor, I have to read a lot of bad news. It has left me with an admittedly bleak view of the world. So to balance out the darkness, I like to occasionally read lighter fare. And Squirrel Girl is the perfect antidote. It’s uplifting, funny and heartwarming. Sadly, the current run is coming to an end (thank you for everything Ryan North!) but it’s worth diving into the back catalogue if you’re looking to explore a new comic book, whether you’re a full-blown comics nerd, a complete newcomer or need a new bedtime story for the kids.

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