Revealing costumes

It’s time to belly up to the Thanksgiving table, but frankly I’m still mulling over Halloween.

Halloween is a natural holiday for the theater community, which is all about getting dressed in costumes and acting out fantasies, so attending a masque ball to raise money for a local thespian troupe was a treat equal to a pillowcase filled with Snickers bars — the full-sized ones, not the miniatures.

Of course there were creative costumes galore, whether it was the grim reaper who left a trail of white makeup on every woman he hugged, or the Halloween version of Medusa with orange snakes bouncing from the woman’s head. But it was the staged entertainment part of the evening that still has me doing some pondering.

They included a series of burlesque offerings throughout the evening, a form of theater that’s rarely seen these days. When it comes to burlesque I immediately think of Gypsy whether it’s that dancer with the trumpet for a prop or Gypsy herself who mesmerized audiences just by slowly removing a long glove.

The tastefully bawdy dancers at the fundraiser were at times like playful sprites from a Midsummer Night’s Dream to a naughty Elvira. But putting aside their dancing and comedic talents, what had me sitting up and taking notice was that the majority of the women were, how shall we say, chubby chicks, made even more obvious by the skimpy costumes. Clinton and Stacy would have definitely said this was “What Not to Wear.”

The night of good fun had suddenly brought with it a serious lesson in body image.

Before the dancers even hit the stage, the women at my table were admiring each other’s clothing choices and gushing over new hair cuts, making note of something we might like to try, because “In all honesty, Jan, that short hair takes 10 years off you.” This naturally veered into complaints about rolls around our middles and the sags and wrinkles and achy knees that invade too many baby boomer conversations.

Then along came the plump entertainers, confidently jiggling a thigh here, wiggling a wide butt there, but all done with a joy that was also felt by the audience. How does that happen? The entertainment world, Hollywood in particular, is all about lithe and lean. Sure, actresses like Kathy Bates and Meryl Streep who don’t quite fit this model still succeed, but listen to the Red Carpet fashion commentators and it’s strictly about who has a rockin’ body.

How you feel about your body is sometimes complicated. Maybe it’s an age thing. The brashness of youth has you making bold statements with cropped tops even if that’s not a good look and lands you on that website of Walmart shoppers. But I also recall a young woman I worked with who was slightly plump and when the temperatures hit 100 continued wearing long sleeves. “My arms are flabby, I don’t like people to see them,” she said. I countered the notion with the who-gives-a-flying-fig attitude of age. “I have flabby arms, too, and allowing them to flap around at least causes a semblance of a breeze.”

Loving the skin you’re in can be serious business, especially when it comes to eating disorders and failing to see what good lies beneath the surface. I certainly don’t have any answers, but I do recall an admonishment making the email circuit the last few years. The one about “dance like no one’s watching,” only I suggest amending that to dancing in your underwear and who cares who’s watching.


— Nancy Luse writes from Frederick, Md., and can be reached at


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