As soon as I saw Heidi Klum’s worm Halloween costume, I was gripped by the icy fingers of inspiration. I simply had to write about it. For those who somehow missed it, Klum dressed up as an enormous pinkish worm for Halloween — and by “dressed up,” I mean she underwent a complete transformation.
How to describe the worm costume. It takes a second to even realize there’s a person in the costume, let alone that it’s Heidi Klum. If I didn’t hear her talking in interviews outside her famous Halloween party (and believe in her indomitable Halloween spirit), I could be convinced she got some poor schmuck to dress up in her place.
Fundamentally, the worm is a bunch of pieces of foam, a ton of makeup and a lot of other special effects stuff that took months to make. Visually, it is a glistening, seven-foot-tall masterpiece that’s slimy to the touch. Klum’s body fills most of the worm, but towering above her face — yes, Klum’s eyes and mouth are her only features visible through small holes, giving the worm a disconcerting human expression — is several more feet of sickeningly realistic worm, which curves forward like a second face. Behind Klum’s shuffling feet are still more meticulously crafted rings of shiny brown foam protruding like an avant-garde gown’s train.
The costume itself, which I have lovingly dubbed the “klumworm” in casual conversation, is a feat. It was meant to be outlandish, as Klum constantly ups the ante of her Halloween outfits. Klum has a two-decades-plus history of outlandish Halloween costumes, including an old woman, herself as one of six clones, a cat that looks like it could be in “Cats” (2019), Princess Fiona from “Shrek” and, of course — who could forget? — a human body without skin. Klum is an icon in the fashion world. Most people, including myself, were first introduced to her via “Project Runway,” which she co-hosted until 2018 with the also-iconic Tim Gunn, but she’s also a supermodel and former Victoria’s Secret Angel. Now she can add “sickeningly realistic worm” to her lengthy list of achievements.
Klum said in an in-costume interview with Entertainment Tonight (while lying on the floor after the precarious costume caused her to fall) that the worm took the artists “months” to construct, and that she felt “very claustrophobic” inside the costume. When asked how she decided to be a worm, she said “I thought a rain worm would be cute (because) that’s something we all know but don’t really love.” As good a reason as any, I suppose.
People (most notably this excellent writer from the New Yorker, Naomi Fry) have praised Klum for rebuking conventional beauty standards and transgressing the oft-quoted “Mean Girls” definition of Halloween with her costume. Is Klum’s worm funny? I hope we can all agree that, yes, a well-respected fashion icon and supermodel rolling around on the floor in a giant, slimy, tube-shaped invertebrate suit is funny. Is it radical, though? I’m not so sure.
I’m left wondering why this costume has such a profound effect on me. It haunts not only my nightmares but my everyday waking thoughts. This worm costume that probably could pay my rent for a year was the most relatable thing a celebrity has done in a long time. Maybe it’s because she was willing to make herself ugly in pursuit of some higher Halloween calling. Maybe it’s an example of a rich person using their money for, if not something useful, at least something cool rather than spectacularly lame. Maybe it’s because I think rolling around on the floor in a foam worm costume several feet longer than your body would be fun. But the costume’s relatability is universally agreed upon at this point, from the memes to the many, many articles people have already written to the way “Heidi Klum’s worm costume” has instantly become a group chat meme. I may not have the extra cash to transform into an extravagant, much-larger-than-life worm, but I can certainly appreciate someone else doing so and thus live vicariously.
Maybe some explanation can be found in Klum’s costume just so happening to coincide with the explosion of Taylor Swift’s hit “Anti-Hero” off Midnights, which contains the widely-discussed line “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby, and I’m a monster on the hill.” Well, sometimes I feel like everybody is Heidi Klum in the glittery, sexy, sheer worm-undergarments she actually wore to her party, and I’m the monster in the slimy worm costume. At the end of her pre-party interviews, she can take off the worm costume and transform into what we always knew she was: a supermodel.
YouTube commenter Rainman said it best in his comment (with over a thousand likes at the time I’m writing this) on “Entertainment Tonight”’s interview with Klum: The costume is great because it’s “one of the most beautiful women in the world disguised as ugly creatures.” Klum’s costume works not only because she has a history of over-the-top Halloween looks, but because we all know that under the bulbous, clammy worm shell, she’s still sexy. Which is why, I think, Klum’s costume cannot be radical in the way it embraces a disgusting and unappealing appearance. There is a caveat to acceptability in looking ugly: Underneath that disguise, you must still look beautiful.
Regardless of how repulsive and ugly the costume is, or how creepy you might find Klum’s yellow eyes piercing through the worm-belly into your soul, it isn’t uncomfortable in the more fundamental sense, because the ugliness and repulsiveness of it all is temporary. We can sit with it because we know it will disappear. The “Entertainment Tonight” reporter points out that she got a spray tan, and wonders why; Klum responds, “Well, I wanted to make sure I looked good underneath, too, right?”
No matter how much I love the worm costume, I think it sticks with me because I relate to the costume more than to the beautiful woman wearing it. It’s not that I don’t think I’m a beautiful woman. It’s more that Klum — supermodel, fashion mogul, judge and host of the show I watched when I was sick at home in middle school — is more relatable to me as a worm. When I see her in the costume, I feel like maybe we understand each other. Maybe she knows what it’s like to stub her toe on the cinder block that holds up her bed frame, or to get sweaty when she’s folding laundry, or to drop her metal water bottle in a quiet lecture hall (all things that make me feel somewhat like an eight-foot slimy worm). But then she takes off those meticulously-crafted foam pieces and reveals a sequin-studded nude bodysuit, and I am reminded that I never really related to Klum at all. I just related to the part of her that, for a few hours, was willing to be loudly, unabashedly ugly.
Senior Arts Editor Emilia Ferrante can be reached at email@example.com.