Trick or Treat: What is the Scariest Part of Halloween?

I know, I know seasonal blogs. We are all filled to the brim reading about Halloween, and it won’t be long before every other blogger and I will be writing about Thanksgiving and then Christmas and then a nice hiatus before we get to write about “The New Beginnings of Spring Tra La!”  But I really have a few things I want to say about Halloween. So please indulge me for just a few minutes.

picture of a ghost
Trick or Treat?

Halloween could have been my favorite holiday. It had all the makings for The Perfect Good Time. Running around dressed up as anything or anyone you wanted, collecting and eating massive amounts of candy, not having to sit through some long drawn out ritual or service before being allowed to run around at night collecting and eating massive amounts of candy. And let’s not forget the lovely after-glow of the candy lingering in the house, sometimes for as long as a week. THAT made the 8 days of Chanukah pale in comparison.

It was also the perfect inter-generational holiday. There was no age limit to participate. You were either the giver or receiver and dressing up was allowed no matter what  age you were”¦except for those two pesky years of adolescence when you felt it was totally un cool to dress up. But even then, no one said you couldn’t. It was your choice. I remember during my “trick or tweening” years, feeling a little sorry for the kids who still had to trick or treat with their parents. It wasn’t until decades later, as a mom, that I realized it was the other way around. It was the parents who were relishing in the few years our kids allowed us to accompany them! And THAT was a TREAT! We were all grown up, but gallivanting from house to house, anonymously clad in costume, and reliving the hedonistic pleasure of taking over the night and abetting our kids in hauling in massive amounts of FREE candy. Why do you think we call it Hauloween?

I was born in Queens, New York and then moved to the burbs of Long Island when I was eight. In contemplating the ultimate Halloween question, “Which is better, city or suburb trick or treating?” the city wins hands down! If quantity is the barometer for a successful Halloween, then trick or treating in apartment buildings in New York is the indisputable victor! Imagine floor after floor and door after door, all lined up, each handing out candy. It was a one stop shop candy jackpot, most amount of candy, least amount of effort.

Pile of assorted candy
The Haul in Hauloween!

The suburbs, on the other hand, made you work harder for your treats, trudging from house to house, up looong driveways, climbing stairways to giant web-laced doors just to get pennies for UNICEF and apples with razor blades. (Just kidding about the apples; but for some reason, it wasn’t until I moved to the “burbs” that I heard stories of tainted treats). But there were still massive amounts of free candy. Granted, you had to cover more ground to get the same amount of candy that you got in the city, but the candy was dandy nonetheless, and the neighborhood streets were swarming with kids who had been waiting for dusk since school let out at three. (Because the unwritten rule was that you couldn’t start trick or treating until it was dark).

Once in a while you’d ring a bell and a wise guy (usually a dad) would open the door dressed as a monster. We’d squeal with delight and yell in unison, “Trick or treat,” and with a twinkle in his ghoulish eye he’d say, “Trick.”

We would freeze, not knowing really what that meant or what we were supposed to do and, just as it started to get tense, The Grim Reaper would grin a self-satisfied smile, put down his plastic scythe, and dole out handfuls of candy corn and bite sized Snickersâ„¢.

How could this NOT be a great holiday?

And it was, until around fourth grade, when my trick or treating days changed forever. That was when I found out I was fat.

Food became my enemy and CANDY, the Darth Vader of my universe. In my household, at any given time, my mother, father, or the kids were on diets. This, of course, meant no treats in our house or in our mouths. As I was indoctrinated into the lifestyle of weight cycling diets in the attempt to please those around me with a thin, lithe body; Halloween became the perfect opportunity for a binge. Better yet, it was sanctified by all of the Powers That Be. Passover Shmassover, THIS was the holiday that begged me to question, “Why is this night different from all other nights???” And the answer, “Because on this night you can collect and eat all of the candy you want.” The TV showed it, the movies showed it, the magazines wrote about it, let’s face it, it was National Annual Binge on Candy Day!

Sculture by Mike Hill of Regan McNeil, Linda Blair's character from the Exorcist
The Horror, The Horror!

And it terrified me.

More than any haunted house, more than any midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead, even more than the Kappa Delta Nu “greaser gang” waiting in the shadows to pummel us with eggs; the scariest part of Halloween for me, was the candy. For years I woke up the morning after like an alcoholic waking from a bar hopping tear, incredulous at the amount of candy wrappers surrounding me and the weight of guilt I had gained by engaging in the simple pleasure of Halloween. I found it hard to fathom why my friends’ candy would last for weeks and weeks eventually becoming too stale and hard for their braces, it would be unceremoniously tossed. Mine was gone within a week.

The treats were no longer a treat for me.

And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. In my early teens I became aware of a whole new trend in dressing up. All of sudden, there were costumes being advertised, that somehow in my pre-pubescent naivete I hadn’t noticed before. They were the same costumes I had always seen, the black cats, Wonder Woman, Bat Girl, belly dancer, nurse, only now they were SEXY, seductive, flesh revealing and titillating. Next to ads with centerfolds of mini Moundsâ„¢ bars and candy corn were centerfolds of young girls with mini mounds protruding out of their Xena Warrior Woman costumes, and the Wicked Witch?

Well that had a Whole New Meaning.

New questions were formulating in my brain. “How could I be expected to gorge on candy and fit into a skimpy costume? When did Halloween become about my body?” And under my anger was a longing to fit in, and the realization that if I dressed up as a sexy cowgirl, I’d be called a Cow Girl. I yearned for the days when I could dress up for the fun of it and not worry if I looked good, or pretty, or sexy, in my costume!

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude about sexuality, but seeing 13 year-olds dressed up as Tinkerbell Call Girls just, well, disturbs me.  Now when the Grim Reaper opens the door and responds to the chorus of, “Trick or Treat” with, “Trick!”  I can’t stop my brain from thinking brothel.

So what’s a mother to do? Because so many of us regard chocolate, and candy in general, as FORBIDDEN FOOD, when a holiday like Halloween comes along, it may be difficult to maintain our ghoul…um…cool. Many parents have rules about what their kids can do with their candy. Some allow the kids to eat as much as they want for that night and then the rest gets thrown away. Others dole it out one or two pieces a day for seven days or until it’s gone. I understand a parent’s intention and need to set limits and help kids establish healthy food habits, but care needs to be taken as to how this is done.  Presenting candy as the enemy (assuming there are no allergies or medical conditions to take into consideration) may lead to sneak eating or an all out binge. Sometimes these eating patterns get generalized to other holidays, events, and meals ultimately developing into more complicated disordered eating behaviors.

The word Diet in a red circle with a line through it.
Diets Don’t Work

It is important to teach kids about mindful eating early on and resist the temptation to introduce restrictive diets that label foods as “good” food “bad” food. I remember when I was 16 and realized that those mini-candies were available ALL YEAR LONG! That was the LAST time I binged on them on Halloween. Knowing I didn’t have to eat them all in one night or the few days that followed (because it would be another YEAR before I could eat them again), diffused the compulsion and drove a wooden stake into Count Choculah’s heart. If candy is not an evil food that shows up once a year like the Jason movies, then the urge to binge is lessened and the fun is in the collecting and the dressing up, not in the consuming.

The part about why little girls have to dress up as hookers, I haven’t figured that one out yet.  Stay tuned.

Do you have a favorite Halloween story or parental candy strategy? I’d love to know!

Til next time!

By Dr. Deah Schwartz

Dr. Deah Schwartz, clinician, educator, and author specializes in Expressive Arts Therapies, Eating Disorders and Body Image. Deah is the Co Author of the NAAFA award winning Off-Broadway Play, Leftovers, and its companion DVD/Workbook Set. An outspoken “New Yawker,” Deah believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to point out and eliminate size discrimination even when it means battling the mainstream media, and even worse, family members! To find out more about Dr. Deah’s work or to book a session visit her website at

4 replies on “Trick or Treat: What is the Scariest Part of Halloween?”

Halloween is not one of my favorites, for a variety of reasons. I enjoy dressing up. I love the my daughter is little enough that I can choose her adorable cute costume and dread the day she wants to be the slutty red riding hood like all the other “cool” girls. We shall have a fight on our hands with that one.

“I am not a prude about sexuality, but seeing 13 year-olds dressed up as Tinkerbell Call Girls”

” The part about why little girls have to dress up as hookers”

You know, I really love this article. But I don’t know, what do you think a hooker actually looks like? What does a call girl look like? I can’t help but be personally bugged out by these turns of phrases, even when I know they are meant to highlight the oversexualization of young girls (which is no doubt, a severe problem). But I really dislike these phrases. Why do I dislike these phrases? Well, because I think 1. you can talk about the over sexualization of young girls without using tropes like these (ie, girls dressed skimpily, therefore are call girls or hookers) and 2. because being a hooker or a call girl is apparently the worst thing you can be.

Now, I get it. This might be a stretch from what obviously is just a really casual phrase for you that again, is about the over sexualization of young girls in the sexy sexy halloween costumes that get worst every year. And you know, if it seems like an agenda, it is. Destigmitizing food neurosis, fat hate, and developing a HAES mentality is yours. Mine is burning tropes about sluts and whores and hookers and loose, hyper and over sexualized women, to the ground.

What I’m saying is, I ask that there be a bit more of thought put into language when describing something that is really much bigger than looking like a hooker (and again, I ask, what do you think a hooker looks like? Because I can tell you, from being called it many times, it can look like many things). I’m not asking you change your mind, only understand why I might be having some reactions to the way you have phrased these things.

This article is wonderful in all other aspects. I really think it hits home with many points- thinking about weight on a day that encourages binging on candy, yet somehow fitting your ten year self into a sexy whatever costume – and especially how that isn’t applicable to young boys. But I dunno, maybe not so much with the hookers and the call girls

Agreed. I did a double take when I got to those same phrases, because there’s no need to shame young women for wanting to look sexy. Like Zoe said in her article yesterday, it absolutely sucks that most of the costumes marketed to women of all ages are ridiculously sexualized, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to slam people who make the choice to wear those costumes.

Ecoco and Hilary, I could NOT agree with you more and I really appreciate you pointing out my insensitivity re: my choice of words. One of the reasons blogging is such a great milieu is the dialog and the learning that goes on between the reader and writer. So help me problem solve this, because another great thing about blogging is I can go to my dashboard edit hit update and anyone who comes upon this article in the future will see the improved version.

I need help describing the phenomena of oversexualizing costumes for pre pubescent and young teenage girls (and boys too perhaps although I haven’t seen any examples of this first hand). And I blew it by reinforcing one negative stereotype in trying to battle another one. If you were to give me a rewrite suggestion, what would it be?

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