Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny
This spring, I saw an interesting opportunity posted on Facebook. The post was a call-out for anyone interested in becoming the Easter Bunny at the mall. Despite the fact that I already have two jobs, or three if you count subbing, I posted my interest and was interviewed later that week. The interview was pretty informal, mostly consisting of questioning why I was interested in the job and trying on a giant Easter Bunny head. With little effort, I was hired on for a two week stint as a costumed Easter Bunny at a mall kiosk for seasonal photos. I thought the whole thing seemed silly and certainly would provide the raw materials for a good story.
The costume itself was hot and claustrophobic. When I first tried the whole thing on, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sense of being trapped. The trapped feeling came from the general heaviness and stuffiness of the head, which provided a dim and limited view of the world. The head does not allow for adequate peripheral vision or the ability to look down. The rest of the body is less challenging. It consisted of oversized rabbit feet, baggy fur pants, a velcro velvety blue jacket, and furry gloves. One thing that I appreciated about the costume was that the bunny looked intellectual, with round glasses and gold trimmed velvet clothes. This was not a rowdy Peter Rabbit, but perhaps his pedantic uncle who is allergic to carrots (unless they are boiled) and whose favorite painting is Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.
(My first time wearing the costume)
In any event, the costume could become hot. Thankfully, there was a fan aimed at the bunny. The only downside was that sometimes the fan upset children or messed up their hair, so it was turned away or tilted up, resulting in a sweltering rabbit. On the upside, I tried to think what skills wearing the suit might translate to. Paul (a fellow rabbit) said that maybe I would be more comfortable in a gas mask, since those are also claustrophobic. I thought perhaps I would do better underwater (with a lessened sense of the space around me or a sense of confinement in a wetsuit or scuba/snorkel mask). Yes, I want to believe that being the bunny better prepares me for revolution, apocalypse, or underwater adventures.
The Easter Bunny was usually gendered as male by parents and children. The bunny doesn’t have any specific gender markers, but might be viewed as male due to the blue velvet vest and jacket. In a Twitter Poll, 80% of respondents believed the Easter Bunny to be male. Though, velvetty anything seems pretty gender ambiguous in my opinion. Only Paul suggested that the bunny could use they, them pronouns. Otherwise, parents almost universally used masculine pronouns with the rabbit. A few people inquired about the gender of the person inside of the costume. For instance, a girl asked me if I was a girl bunny or a boy bunny. An older woman asked one of the cashier/photography workers if the person inside was male or female. I don’t expect that most customers would have the knowledge or experiences to envision the bunny outside of the binary of male or female. I myself tended to gender the bunny as male, hence my Peter Rabbit’s uncle story. I often wondered how parents felt about setting their child on the lap of the Easter Bunny. Did the parents envision the person inside as male? If so, how did this make them feel? Male gender and sexuality is always viewed as more potentially threatening to children. This is because we are socialized to view women as more “naturally” disposed for caretaking, more nurturing, and more invested in children. Statistically, men are more likely to be perpetrators of child sexual abuse, though females make up 14% of the abusers of male children and 6% of female children. With this in mind, I wondered how parents might react differently based upon their perceptions of the gender of the person in the costume. As far as I could tell, most parents were extremely comfortable putting their child into the lap or company of a stranger in a rabbit costume. This leads me to my next point…
I was not able to speak as the Easter Bunny. This made negotiating consent difficult. As I mentioned, parents were pretty comfortable with placing their child in the temporary care of the Easter Bunny. However, many children were not at all comfortable meeting the bunny. It seemed that children over the age of two and under the age of five were often quite terrified of the bunny. From a distance, they seemed excited. As they grew nearer, the magnitude of meeting the bunny struck them- as well as the general weirdness of having to sit on this character’s lap or beside them. This resulted in reactions ranging from shyness to terror. Parents addressed this a number of ways. A common tactic was to bribe the children. Children were promised that they could ride the train, have candy, go to Build a Bear, or get a toy if they endured a photo with the bunny. Parents also assured their children that the bunny was safe and nice. This was done by approaching the bunny, touching its paw, high fives, sitting next to the bunny with the child in arms, and other tactics to increase the child’s exposure to the bunny and demonstrate that it was no threat at all. Some parents threatened their kids, telling them there would be no candy or that they would go straight home. A final tactic was to simply place the child on the bunny’s lap or on the bench, then run, hoping that the photographer would grab a few shots before the child inevitably ran away.
Parents played an important role in mediating the child’s consent. However, most parents wanted a photo for their own collection of memories or to send to relatives. They had a vested interest in forcing their child to endure a photo. This put me in an awkward position. When one parent placed a child on my lap, the child immediately thrust themselves off my legs and flopped onto the floor. This resulted in more crying. Since I did not want more children to fall over, I would hold them securely on my lap- a violation of their consent. Parents encouraged this, even telling me to hold on tight to their child. When I finally released one child, the crying boy wailed that he would never return to the Easter Bunny again. I felt bad that many kids did not consent to being photographed with the bunny. While I think that with time and patience, many frightened children would warm up to the bunny, the length of the line or impatience of the parents did not allow for this to happen in some cases. In other cases, children naturally became more comfortable with the giant rabbit and ended up having a positive experience. Thus, I can conclude that I think it is alright for parents to challenge their children to overcome their fears in a patient and supportive manner. But, I do think it sends the wrong message for parents to threaten or force the encounter.
As for my own strategies for trying to make children comfortable, I would sometimes grab an egg for the children to hold. This seemed to distract them from the frightening, giant rabbit. I would also try to make the children comfortable with high fives and thumbs ups. If kids rushed towards me (without showing fear) I might gesture for a hug. I didn’t want to be a cold Easter Bunny with walls of boundaries, but I also didn’t want to make children uncomfortable. I found that this was a little challenging to balance, as I naturally am more reserved when it comes to showing warmth and affection.
Working with Kids:
While I work with children at Safe Haven Shelter, I enjoyed my interactions as the Easter Bunny far more. Within the context of the shelter, I am just me. If a child is placed in my care, it is usually in the office, where there are computers, office supplies, and phone calls. Thus, I always feel pretty stressed out about childcare at the shelter because 1.) I have nothing to entertain them with. 2.) I am in a room full of expensive or breakable things- i.e. computers. 3.) I often don’t know how long the encounter will last. 4.) I may have other work to attend to. 5.) I am not actually all that fun or interesting to children. As the Easter Bunny, I was immediately fun and likeable. Afterall, I am the one who brings candy and hides eggs. On several occasions, I was able to ride on the mall train which was a grand entry and an opportunity for sort-of dancing. While I could not speak, I could wave, gesture, high five, and pretend to hop. In all, it was great to NOT be boring old Heather, who has nothing to offer children. Really, being the Easter Bunny is the closest I will ever be to being a celebrity or God.
(a photo of a photo- of my friend Jenny’s niece)
From a Marxist perspective, all workers sell their labor power in exchange for a wage. Labor power is not only labor (i.e. selling shoes, making shirts, paving roads, or other examples of the act of working). It is time, work, along with the whole human being. In short, every worker sells their work and time, but also their personality, body, and the sustenance the person (physical health, mental health, caloric use, bodily wear and tear, etc.). My temporary gig as the rabbit was a “hobby” job or one that I did more on a whim than for my actual survival. Therefore, I didn’t feel particularly exploited. At the same time, I think it would be very hard to be the bunny all year long or as a professional job. There are some people (such as Disneyland workers) who do not have the luxury of a two week gig. Thus, I think it is useful to illustrate the way in which this form of work is exploitive (as all work is).
When a worker sells their labor power, they are selling themselves. In the bunny example, the worker is invisible, hidden inside a stuffy, hot suit. The sweat of the worker, the inability to scratch an itchy nose, immediately use the toilet, easily ingest water, move hair that has flopped into the face, to speak, to see beyond the periphery of the eye holes, etc. are all ways in which the body is subjugated in the sale of labor. Playing the character is how the personality of the worker is subjected in the interest of the emotional labor of entertaining children. The way in which work subjugates the body and personality of a worker is pretty obvious inside the confines of a costume. Even other workers tended to ignore the bunny, sometimes neglecting to turn on or move of the fan. The bunny can’t easily communicate needs. Another hardship as the rabbit was a lack of a sense of time. There was no nearby clock, so time could move quickly or slowly depending upon how many customers were visiting. At the same time, the bunny was paid better than other workers. Workers who were not the bunny were pretty adamant that they did not want to end up in the costume. I believe that at some level they realized that the bunny produced more “value” in terms of labor output (i.e. had a harder job but also contributed more to overall profits).
But, a person does not have to be in a bunny suit to realize the bodily oppression of labor. A waitress who has to smile and look pretty for more tips, a social worker whose stress or compassion is a strain on their mental health, and a janitor whose heavy routine deteriorates physical health are all examples of how labor is more than just our work and time, but our whole being.
(A little house of capitalist horrors)
I would say that the job was certainly novel. Towards the end, I was happy that the season was over since my coworkers seemed worn out and the hours in addition to my regular work hours was making me weary and eager for free time. It was a fun side job and more insightful than one might imagine. While hidden in my costume, I had plenty to think about in terms of gender, consent, and labor itself. There were fun moments. I liked to make children happy. I liked to play a character. I liked the opportunity to be something other than the more serious and quiet version of myself that I sometimes am as an activist and worker at my other jobs. I enjoyed eating at Noodles and Company at the mall and visiting the mall at all! It was something different from my normal routine. I was also happy to have stories to share with my friends, coworkers, and family. I even had a several people visit me as the bunny. If the opportunity arises, I may be the bunny again next year. Being the Easter bunny made me feel more inclined to celebrate Easter. I visited my family and even purchased myself an Easter basket full of candy I don’t need. But, even the Easter bunny needs a little treat! Anyway, we’ll see what next Easter brings. And who knows, maybe I will be one of Santa’s helpers…