It’s Halloween, and we all know what that means. In a PG-13 world, at least, it’s time to break out the costumes. Some will show up as dead brides, and others will be mermaids, or Nancy Drew, or politicians, or characters from movies, or all sorts of delicious puns.
And some of us really get into it: We act as though we’re that new character, adopting the creepiness, sultriness, effervescence, and knack for solving mysteries of those we’re portraying. Usually, though, the act is short-lived, and we go back to being ourselves at the end of the night.
Some people love Halloween because it’s a chance to dress up as somebody totally different, to forget their sorry lives and look and act like Hillary Clinton or Beyoncé for an entire evening. Halloween is a total escape, a day that it’s finally O.K. to attend in disguise.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can be new characters any old time we want—changing our personalities to suit any situation or any whim—and indeed we should. “Be yourself” is the worst advice ever cooed to teenagers and pathetic adults. Don’t be yourself. Who is “yourself,” anyway, if not a creature of your own invention, and why should we care at all about this person that many of us trek to Southeast Asia or Nepal to find?
More importantly, is it really realistic to expect “yourself” to be at all consistent for more than two days? Why go to all the trouble of finding yourself just to lose that person in a crowed Designer Shoe Warehouse during the holiday season? Instead of being yourself, be the person you want to be, whether that person is a character (an existing one or one that you make up), a mermaid, or even a pun. It takes a whole lot of pressure off “staying true to yourself” (the second-worst piece of advice ever cooed to teenagers and pathetic adults), and it’s much more fun.
The only times I’ve been deliriously happy and supremely confident in my life are when I’ve been channeling someone else or wholeheartedly pretending to be someone else. That sentence reads as though I hate myself, but as “myself” is nothing more than the 40-plus characters that live under my skin, it’s quite the opposite. Being somebody else is being incredibly kind to myself. I let other characters take over and do what do they best. Let me explain.
In my life, I’m Flora Goldwasser (a glamorous teen I made up) when faced with adversity, I’m Judy Blume’s Rachel Robinson when I’m organizing my sock drawer, I’m my 10th grade chemistry teacher when doing a math problem of any kind, I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder when confronted with nature, I’m a 64-year-old Frenchwoman while shopping for groceries, I’m a 1950s track star from Indiana when running, I’m Bartleby when feeling overwhelmed with homework, I’m Professor Lois Brown when participating in class, and I’m the teenaged anorectic from the movie version of “The Best Little Girl in the World” when crossing any bridge with my arms full of books.
But it’s easy for me to say, right? I’m a Gemini, so maybe having more than one side comes naturally. And though I will admit that acting like a totally new person—Miranda Priestly, the demon boss from “The Devil Wear’s Prada,” for example, when proclaiming my distaste for people who move at glacial paces while plucking tomatoes individually from the salad bar container—gets a few eyebrow raises, it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it. Being or channeling someone else is not a lie because, after all, I’m the one doing the pretending. Don’t listen to people who say that changing who you are on a whim is being “fake.” Fakeness is a social construct.
In 1976, the movie “Sybil” was all the rage. The plot is supposedly based on a true story of a woman who suffers from what is now called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID); it was known then as Multiple Personality Disorder. Sybil, the main character, is a woman with a traumatic past who copes by fracturing into 16 different personalities. She is based on Shirley Mason, a Minnesotan treated by famous psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur, known for popularizing the diagnosis of DID in the 1960s.
Though the jury is out on whether DID is a real phenomenon or not—Debbie Nathan, author of “Sybil Exposed,” accuses Dr. Wilbur and Flora Rheta Schreiber, the author of the original novel “Sybil,” of manipulating poor Shirley Mason for financial gain—having multiple personalities, in the non-medical sense, is stigmatized. We as a culture are fond of consistency. We don’t like the unpredictable, the unexpected. Consistency, though, is vastly overrated.
Some of us love taking personality tests. Those are all about tendencies. But who cares about knowing what your personality is? Who you are is who you think you are, and it’s who other people think you are. There is no essential “you,” no matter how old you are or how many personality tests you take. At the core of it all, you’re just organs and blood and stuff. Personality is just a way of categorizing a bunch of tendencies. Friends, do not categorize yourselves or let yourselves be categorized. Be the person you want to be, even if that person changes shape every day. You’re allowed.
Don’t limit your costumes to Halloween. Switch who you are constantly. Never stay the same person for too long; it’s boring and restrictive. You can accommodate thousands of personalities. Unleash your inner Sybil.
So don’t be yourself. God, no! Never be yourself. There are too many hats, both literal and figurative, to try on.
Davis is a member of the class of 2017.