October is my favorite month. The air is crisp, the leaves begin to turn…just kidding, I live in New Orleans, y’all. It’s like 84 degrees today and the leaves don’t turn here, they just fall, and not until like February.
But I do love October. It’s slightly less hot and reminds me that in other places there are four distinct seasons. Plus I love Halloween. Because you can take the girl out of the goth club, but you can never wash black hair dye out of your hair. Ever. Seriously, you just have to shave your head and start over if you want to go a different color.
All my dharma talks in October come from horror movies. Sure, it’s partially because I like to prolong Halloween for the entire month, but it’s also because I like to combat the idea that horror movies are mindless drivel. I think watching horror movies puts you in touch with what people are really scared of, and that’s important.
Fear is such an important force in our lives. Some fears motivate us to act in certain ways, and some fears paralyze us into inaction. Talking about fear is so taboo that most of us only have a couple people in our lives that we are willing to do it with. But the beautiful thing about talking about fear is that it often neutralizes it, like shining a light under your bed and seeing your monster for the dirty pile of socks he really is.
First from my Netflix que is Jennifer’s Body. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll give you a brief rundown. Jennifer is a beautiful cheerleader in a small town who is abducted by a devil-worshipping rock band. They use her as a virgin sacrifice in a satanic ritual that’s supposed to bring them fame. Only, Jennifer, as it turns out, isn’t actually a virgin, so she doesn’t die in the ritual and is instead possessed by a demon. Obvi.
Demon possession is a common trope in horror movies, and I think it always goes back to a certain fear humans have about not being in total control of themselves, their bodies, or their identities. Jennifer’s demon possession is special, though, because she isn’t like totally possessed all of the time. Most of the time she’s just her normal teenage self. She still goes to the mall, obsesses about what she looks like, and wittily disparages her best friend, Needy.
The catch is that in order to stay healthy and happy, Jennifer has to eat people. Jennifer says in the movie that when her meals start wearing off, her hair is dull, her skin breaks out, and she just doesn’t feel pretty. “God,” saw says, “it’s like I’m one of the normal girls.” In other words, Jennifer eats people so that she can stay special and beautiful.
I think this speaks to a certain fear we all have of being “one of the normal girls.” We all want to be the most beautiful, the most special, the most popular. If it seems like only teenage girls are invested in this, then take a peek at Facebook. We are all trying to be the most “liked.” So much so that it consumes us, or possesses us. We can’t even take a piss without checking social networks on our phones to make sure that people “like” us.
Our constant need to feel special, beautiful, and liked is so all pervasive that it leaks into all the time we could be spending doing things that actually make us feel those ways. Instead of having authentic interactions with other people, we spend a lot of our time building up our personas. In other words, we spend more times deciding what curated parts of ourselves we are going to show people than we do just being ourselves.
And in order to keep feeling special and liked, we begin to treat others simply as objects for our consumption. The discrete personalities of individuals get boiled down to a plus sign on a list of 2,000 friends and a quick blip on their birthday. People become reduced to “likers.” They are just food for our possessed egos. Each of them is only worth one measly point, and it takes so many points to make us feel satisfied.
The funny thing is that, in the movie, Jennifer never looks as beautiful as she does in the moment that the demon is killed (and she dies along with it). The natural color returns to her face, and all her features relax. And it’s the same with us. We are all already special and beautiful, but it is only in the moments when we are able to slay the demon of self-obsession that others are able to see it. It is in those moments that we are not concerned about how we are seen that our natural qualities are most visible.
We are most beautiful to other people when we stop trying to control what they think of us and make authentic and vulnerable connections. Real connection requires not just that we show ourselves, but also that others are recognized for their complexity.
We are all most beautiful in our flawed fleshy reality, when we aren’t judging or being judged based on the limits of our projected personas or belittled into blue thumbs up bars. Real human connection requires vulnerability and some surrender of control. That kind of connection is scary, but without it, we are all monsters.