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Dressing To Impress or Dressing To Distress?

It Is Crucial To Steer Clear of Offensive and Disrespectful Halloween Costumes


Photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash


The crisp fall air is settling in, warm pumpkin spice lattes are being sipped and the sweet smell of candy is filling the air meaning one thing, Halloween is near. As Halloween approaches issues with offensive costumes begin to sprout. Some of these issues are that people are wearing costumes that disrespect different cultures and religions and not acknowledging the origin of the costume. Cultural appropriation is when someone adopts a culture that isn't their own and does not acknowledge or respect the culture being used for their own benefit. As kids grow up, costumes switch from Disney princesses and superheroes to resembling real life people such as celebrities. While the intent of a costume may be innocent, the portrayal of people in these costumes can be offensive if not done properly. 


Cultural appropriation has been normalized in our culture, especially in popular culture (pop culture) through football team names and mascots. Teams such as the Washington Redskins, now known as the Washington Commanders, moved away from their names because of receiving backlash from fans and critics. Since they used a controversial name and benefited off of it without acknowledging the history of it, it was poorly received. At football games, fans would dress up like every day was Halloween in traditional Native American clothing but not acknowledge the tribes that they are representing as the football team is all that it was known for. Teams such as the Florida State Seminoles have approval from the tribe who they get their name from and work in conjunction with them to create a beneficial relationship by promoting and supporting the tribe in exchange for their name and mascot. However, a relationship like this isn’t typical, especially in American history. Due to this new phenomenon, most people misuse the Native American traditions and clothing by thinking of it as a part of pop culture. 


“I think they [Native American cultures and others of that nature] are sensitive to appropriation and it's their culture and it's something that is reserved for them and their ceremonies,” upper school  English teacher Lauren Fantle said. “If somebody insists upon dressing up or cultural appropriation I would wonder about that person's intent.”  


While some argue that wearing nun costumes doesn't constitute cultural appropriation because nuns are associated with the Catholic Church, one of the world's most powerful institutions, it's essential to consider the real impact of such costumes. This impact isn't solely felt by the Church's through the disrespect of caricaturing their holy people, but also by the women within the religion. A nun is a woman who has made a solemn commitment to devote her life to religious service and contemplation, typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience within the confines of a monastery or convent. When individuals choose to dress up as nuns and sexualize this group, it represents a profound disrespect for the values they hold dear and the sacred nature of their dedication.


If you google “Native American Costumes”  you will find hundreds of links leading you to sites that are trying to sell you a stereotype, some trying to make the culture “sexy.” There have also been a number of cases of people wearing Native American headdresses, which is something sacred in their culture and is worked for and which holds a high honor. The Native American culture has been discriminated against for a large amount of our history and these costumes are continuing this. Costumes that have these qualities are  painting a picture of a stereotype that continues to dehumanize them. They are people; a culture, not costumes. 


“If it [dressing up in Native American costumes] is done as caricature I think it can be offensive,” TruBru Manager Jarod Bates said. “However, if it's done properly to pay tribute I think absolutely it's ok. For example the Seminole Tribe of Florida they are very involved in Florida state and how they put together clothing Osceola wears and stuff of that nature.”


While a blonde haired and fair skinned little girl dressing up in a Pocahontas outfit because that is her favorite princess is one thing, somebody disrespecting the culture is another. People stereotyping costumes and purchasing “sexy” versions of costumes to completely disregard what they truly stand for is discriminatory towards people of those cultures.  Places such as Party City and other Halloween costume stores have a huge profit this time of year, whether that be on acceptable costumes or those that are offensive and discriminatory. 


“People are going to do whatever they can to sell and make money,” Fantle said. “So that's why they [offensive costumes] exist.”


While to some it may seem like common sense, dressing up in attire that disrespects a culture or religion is not acceptable. It is important to take into consideration what a costume is representing or to just steer clear of questionable costumes that may or may not be walking the line in general. 

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