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Masking Insecurity | Anonymous mascot suits help socialize? — Beer vs. Bread

Inflated Confidence

Costumes may reveal out true selves

by Greg I. Hamilton on July 27, 2012

There’s a cool article in this month’s Wired on the guy who invented inflatable mascot-suits. In typical Wired fashion, the article geeks out on how these things are made and delves into the inventor’s story, but then hits that all important question: “What good are these things, ultimately?” Lots of good, apparently.

I covered a previous Wired blurb about these cheerleader-eating, air-puffed characters long ago and had probably dismissed them as a silly novelty. But like all my favorite silly novelties, this one appears to still have life— especially for folks on the autism spectrum.

The article by Ben Paynter— with some great pics by Andrew Hetherington— shows how donning these suits can allow people with Asperger’s, autism, and presumably other conditions, to come out of their shells, socially. Paynter consulted a psychologist, who argued that the suits provided a “safer environment” thanks to the physical buffer zone of the suit’s air pocket and its anonymity.

There’s plenty in the full article to chew on: so click here to read it. It is careful to point out some flaws and failures in attempting to put the suits to “therapeutic use.” The article doesn’t prescribe, merely explores a cool idea.

Thinking of dressing up to hide your own peculiar variety of social awkwardness? As a cautionary tale, I’d advise reading the short piece “My Life as a Dog” by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club). Find it in his non-fiction compilation, Stranger than Fiction. Palahniuk and a friend, dressed as a Dalmation and a dancing bear, took off across downtown Seattle to see what would happen. Admittedly it was a very different experiment. Palahniuk is a very different sort of scientist. The results?

They were thrown out of the art museum, chased by police, groped, kidney-punched, karate kicked, and there was verbal abuse—lots of verbal abuse. The types of foul language hurled at them (along with rocks) could only be rivaled by Palahniuk’s own fiction writing. It definitely makes you think twice about dressing in an animal suit— unless for some reason you’re seeking that sort of contact. To his journalistic credit, Palahniuk does indeed give an example of just such an individual: something about his friend getting laid repeatedly because of his wolf suit at Burning Man.

On that note, I’ll leave you with the thoughts of another Pacific Northwest writer on the subject of costumes:

But, then, who could guess the identity of any of the costumed or masked? And wasn’t that— and not the lust and the gluttony— the true beauty of Mardi Gras? A mask has but one expression, frozen and eternal, yet it is always and ever the essential expression, and to hide one’s telltale flesh behind the external skeleton of the mask is to display the universal identity of the inner being in place of the outer identity that is transitory and corrupt.

The freedom of the masked is not the vulgar political freedom of the successful revolutionary, but the magical freedom of the divine, beyond politics and beyond success. A mask, any mask, whether horned like a beast or feathered like an angel, is the face of immortality. Meet me in Cognito, baby. In Cognito, we’ll have nothing to hide.

– Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume (1984)

Thanks for reading. Cheers,


Photo by Andrew Hetherington

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