Here I am, for another Halloween, dressed as a historical figure. This trend has been totally by accident. I love characters, movies, and stories, but those feel, well, done. And even though people have created proper homages to all the famous women of our pasts — be it through photographs, movies, documentaries, or what have you — there is always something different about doing one yourself. Given that I was a college theater major dressing up has always been transformative. And yet this Halloween experience has been unlike any other.
Jeanne d’Arc, as the French call her, has been on my mind for a few years now. While I haven’t yet read a proper biography about her (believe me, it’s on my list), I wanted to represent her as someone I look up to. I admire strong women, and who else do you think of but the original medieval badass, Joan of Arc? Once you learn even a whiff about her, she’s hard to forget. Joan is an icon of French history. She was a teenage warrior. She died burning at the stake. She was canonized as a saint. But what sticks with me most, and what I admire about her, is that she believed in herself, despite everything in her world at the time telling her otherwise. And I think that was at the core of who she was.
I’m not sure where the line is between what some people perceive as God and believing in yourself. That inner voice that has been deemed an eternal spirit represents so much to me: instinct, drive, years of evolutionary behavior, love, and passion — to name a few. Joan listened to that voice that told her to fight for France, lead the troops into battle, even when she was just a girl. A girl! A young girl from a small country town that heard voices telling her to lead France to victory. But I wonder, what if that wasn’t just the voice of God, but rather her voice. Her inner strength, her determination, her need to be useful, powerful, and a leader.
Strong young girls is not a new thing, but it is a rarity. Not because young girls can’t be strong. Rather, they don’t have the opportunities to express themselves on a world stage. I liken Joan to Malala and Greta, teenagers who have such spirit and passion for their causes that they literally let nothing and no one hold them back. Their inner voices, their guiding lights, shine so bright that we all enjoy the force in the glow. I think Joan was like that. Actually, I know she was, which is why history will never forget her.
When I bought the pieces for this costume, I balked at the weight of each package. And when I had the armor plating over the constricting chainmail, I felt literally crushed by over forty pounds of aluminum. My breath was labored, and my shoulders ached something awful. And as the costume dug sharply into the sides of my neck, I thought about Joan. Joan didn’t wear modern aluminum. Joan wore steel. And she didn’t wear a quarter of a suit of armor. She wore the whole damn thing. On a horse. With a weapon and a helmet. As I sat for these portraits, desperately trying to hold my shoulders up under the weight, I was extremely humbled by her story. Don’t take a walk in her shoes — try on her armor instead. It will demonstrate the sheer courage of any soldier at that time, but it is truly remarkable for a young girl. As I sat, I thought, “if Joan can bear this, then so can I.”
This year has been a challenge for everyone. It’s a battlefield of stress and anxiety out there. But I look to women like Joan, who fought and died for what they believed in, who let their inner voice guide them, even if it meant the loss of everything, including their lives. There is power in that strength and a motivation to rise up.
Joan represents us all this year. Fight your battles with courage and always, always, always, believe in yourself.