Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grinning and Baring It

Until this year, when I've been asked what my best Halloween costume ever was, I've cited the year I went as the Incredible Hulk, draped in a plastic smock, breath steaming behind a green plastic mask.

Ever since I can remember (though I don't remember many of my early childhood costumes, and have no photos of them), I've been draped in something for Halloween, hiding beneath plastic, swimming inside capes, while everyone around me seemed to shed all of their exterior layers and let their freak flags fly. I didn't dress as a princess; I dressed as a witch.

For years as an adult, I insisted that I don't wear Halloween costumes, that I merely accessorize, resulting in a collection of kitty ears, devil horns, glittery masks, and ladybug and fairy wings (now in storage) that don't constitute a costume per se but at least give a touch of festive flair for the holiday. And after years of gender-neutral and unisex outfits, generally of the ghoulish variety, in my 20s and early 30s, I just wanted to be seen as cute.

But of course I love dressing up. I'm an actor, after all. I've just never felt like I could compete with the other New York girls on Halloween, in this city whose parade is world-famous and whose population is intimidatingly attractive.

But I've longed for the sexy ensembles that surrounded me: the French maids, nurses, angels, cheerleaders, and superheroes with their short skirts and hot pants, bare midriffs and decolletage. I've ached to be the one that everybody wanted their photo taken with. I've craved the confidence it takes to wear an outfit like that, and dare to be photographed in it.

And then this year, I lost 45 pounds. I turned 35 years old. And suddenly, as my body got a little better, my brain got a little braver.

I was determined to dress up this year.

I wasn't sure which iconic figure I was going to select, so I started shopping early. Nearly immediately after moving to Astoria, I began hitting all the party stores, Ricky's, and Halloween pop-up shops I could find - of which there are plenty - to scope out the offerings for this year. And then I found a gold chain bra in 1980s packaging that touted, "A perfect accompaniment to your harem girl costume!"

DONE.

Given my recent travels in North Africa and interest in Middle Eastern culture, and my experience studying bellydancing, the outfit was a no-brainer. And given my new relocation to Queens, I was sure to be able to source most of my outfit locally. Slowing accruing the basics - red bra and boy shorts, a sheer red wrap - and additional accessories - slave bracelet, anklet, belly jewels, veil and shoes - I assembled an ensemble that was my sexiest and most revealing ever.

The only problem?

I had to wear it in public.

Friday night, I was standing in my bedroom, overhead white light blaring, staring at myself in the full-length mirror, wrapping my arms around my exposed waist and doubling over in fear. How was I going to even leave my room, much less the apartment, much less the building? What was I thinking? What was my Plan B??

But as I slowly emerged, first poking my head out of my door and then an arm, then an exposed leg, I surprised my roommate, who in shock said, "Oh my God! You're hot! Look at you!"

Although that gave me the confidence I needed to walk down 30th Avenue, I then had to take the subway, walk into a brightly lit bar full of people, stay there and actually talk to them for a couple of hours.

The horror!

In the end, I survived. Some people averted their eyes, others couldn't stop hugging me. An Egyptian man tried to give me his phone number on the 7 train platform. A Brooklyn man asked for three wishes. A band from Atlanta sent me drinks from across the bar. People called out to me, "Hey bellydancer!" And I was brave enough to actually wear the costume two nights in a row.

Even after losing 45 pounds, I'm only now right at the very high end of the healthy weight range for my height. I'm a pound or so away from not being overweight for the first time in my entire life. (I was born three weeks late and therefore a big baby.) I'm not thin, per se - at least not by any conventional American standards - but in Brooklyn and Queens, the resounding reaction was, "You're hot!"

I'll take it.

As scary as baring my midriff is - especially because most of my bikini-clad time has been spent underwater and therefore not that exposed - I'm glad I did it. After spending the last 10 months slowly losing the equivalent of a small child, I don't have to suck my stomach in all of the time. I can see my feet.

And a bellydancer should have a little bit of belly...something to shake, at least.

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