By: Tessa Rubino
As Halloween approaches, companies like to come up with all types of costumes. Having options is good, but what’s not good are offensive, and stereotypical costumes. In writing this article, I am going to speak on my opinion about several types of Halloween costumes.
Some people choose simple costumes, but there are always people who may decide to wear a “sexy” costume. Now, before I write the rest of this, I’d like to say upfront that people may choose whatever they feel comfortable in. Last year around Halloween time, while I was browsing around in ‘Spirit Halloween’, it became very prominent to me the fact that the only costumes marketed towards women were very sexualized, showing a lot of skin, etc. For example, if you search women’s costumes, all of them are regular jobs, such as a teacher, a cop, referee, nurse, and there is barely anything to it! The main issues that I have with this situation is it basically shows women the only option they have for Halloween is to be “sexy.” My other issue with these costumes is that by sexualizing these professions, you are taking away the substance of them, and all the hard work that people do to achieve these jobs. There was one costume in particular that caught my attention, it was a costume titled ‘Anna Rexia’. In this costume, it is a tight low cut dress with a skeleton on the front of it. The model is holding a measuring tape around her waist. Mental illness and eating disorders are not sexy. They are extremely difficult situations that we should NOT be forming into a costume for people to wear. In addition to that, some other things just DO NOT need to be sexualized. For example, there are even sexy Sesame Street characters, a Pizza Delivery Person with the words “Hot Dish” on it, Bert, corn, and a killer whale! It is especially bad to sexualize characters from children’s shows. It also sends the message to some people that women are objects, and their only job is to look good for others. In my opinion, these are not the values we should be placing upon women! Granted, with all of that said, wear whatever you feel comfortable in.
Now that I have spoken on that issue, I would like to put more emphasis on this more serious topic of Halloween costumes. You can find basically anything in the form of a costume and if not, you can create it yourself. One of the great things is that you can be whatever you want to! Yet, there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed especially when it is a costume of a person. It’s completely fine if you want to dress up as someone you like, and emulate it through a costume but sometimes the way you are portraying them isn’t necessarily the right way. While browsing through ‘Spirit Halloween’, a few costumes had caught my eye, two in particular were a Caitlyn Jenner costume, and an olympic track star costume right next to it. Coincidence you think? Before Caitlyn Jenner had male to female transition surgery, she was known as Bruce Jenner an olympic track star medalist, winning big in the Decathlon in the year 1976, earning her a gold medal. Now, the problem with having these costumes is it makes the process of gender transitioning into a joke. It does this by taking some pieces of fabric to form a corset, (which Caitlin wore on the cover of Vanity Fair, with the caption, “Call me Caitlin”) and a wig, which is supposed to represent her. It makes light of the strength it took to “come out.” Controversy also arises because they had the olympic gold medalist costume right next to it, which is what Caitlin was known for before she transitioned to Caitlin. This costume is not representative of the experience of transgender people because Caitlin, formerly known as Bruce Jenner was a heterosexual, cisgender, white, wealthy, male. This was a lot of privilege that she started out with. With this being said Caitlin’s opinions on the costume are quite in fact the opposite of mine in which she states, “I’m in on the joke. Yeah, no, I don’t think it’s offensive at all. I know the community does and the companies that sell them have gotten a lot of criticism for doing it. I think it’s great, to be honest with you; I think it’s great. But they have could have come up with a better costume for it!” Many people were saying that it is transphobic and I am just not crazy about this being the poster for pride of transgender people. There are much better ways of showing your support and pride for the transgender community than wearing a costume.
The next costume that I will be sharing my opinion on are racist ones. When you take a culture and turn it into a costume, you are taking away its substance and meaning. Not only that, but costumes relating to race usually emphasize several stereotypes. For example, blackface, when a white person “dresses up” as a black person, was a common way for white people to degrade African Americans in the 1830’s. To elaborate, this would mean that they would exaggerate stereotypical attributes about black people, examples being painting on big lips, painting their faces black, etc. Sadly, the act of Blackface has not disappeared, in fact, in recent years it has become even more prevalent. Now, blackface showcases more recent stereotypes about the black community. A film titled, “Dear White People”, (which came out in 2014, set in modern time) written by a gay black man named Justin Simien, explores what it’s like to be a black person in a predominately white ivy league school, and depicts the trend quite well. In the movie, the fraternity, which is all white, always has outrageous Halloween parties. The one that the movies plot focuses on was an “African-American’ themed party, where in the invite it calls out all the stereotypes of a black person. I remember seeing this scene with all the music playing, the quick camera changes, and just being creeped out by how the brown face paint, fake locs, afro wigs, and all the others items the white characters had pulled out to wear for this occasion. Blackface has a long history and is still happening. The reason it’s harmful is because you’re reducing an entire culture that has been disrespected and dehumanized for all of history and to think it’s funny to pick out stereotypes about them and place it on your body normalizes harmful stereotypes about the black community and is not representative of them. You will never understand what it is like to be black (if you aren’t black), so by “dressing up” as a black person for one night, you are making light of harmful generalizations, and making fun of the black culture, all the while being the more privileged race in America today. They have to live with it everyday. While doing my research for this article, I blatantly searched, “Racist halloween costumes.” I ended up on this website where it showcased people of color holding up a picture of a costume that was supposed to be their culture. Their was someone of Asian background holding up the picture of a white male model wearing a pair of glasses that featured stereotypical “Asian eyes”, with a big stack of math and science books with a bowl of rice and chopsticks placed on top. It also displayed Mexican costumes, (one of them being a pregnant woman, who is smoking and wearing big gold hoops, etc.), an Arab man, and so many more. It disturbed me to witness the large amount of these types of costumes. One of the more frequently worn are sexualized Native American costumes. They are not representative of their culture nor are they respectful! We are making light of toxic stereotypes that dehumanize and make fun of somebody’s ethnicity or race. The last costume I’ll be sharing my opinion on in this section is a costume that was not being sold anywhere, but one that somebody created themselves. A white man wore blackface, a gray hoodie with a huge bloodstain surrounding his chest, holding skittles in one hand and a snapple in the other. This man decided to “dress up” as Trayvon Martin. This was an innocent young black male who was walking around his home, and a person on the Neighborhood Watch who was multi racial “felt threatened” so he shot him. Trayvon was only 17 and was doing absolutely nothing wrong yet got killed by a bullet. I can’t express how much of a tragedy and injustice this is. Blackface is already a messed up act, but taking a specific situation where an innocent young male was shot and making it into a costume is not humorous. It is not clever. It is disgusting. That person took a serious situation and tried being funny about it, but there is not one joking matter about what happened. It disturbed and saddened me to see this man dressed up as that.
The last Halloween costume I will be briefly talking about is Mental Health Patient costumes. If you search this, you will find people wearing straight jackets with really teased up hair, blood on the costumes, (most of the women’s costumes were sexualized) and the ones for men being an orange jumpsuit with a badge that says “Psych Ward.” Looking through these images, I’ll be honest, I got a little creeped out! That is one of the exact issues with having these as a costume. Sexualizing or making fun of mental illness or someone in a Mental health hospital is not okay. It plays into the fact that some people fear others who have mental illness. For the mental illness patients themselves, it makes them feel as though they are nothing but scary, and creates even more stigma around them. It takes away the seriousness of mental illness. Another costume that got my attention was called “adult skitzo costume”. It is an orange jumpsuit, with chains attached from the suit that clamped around the models wrists and what appears to be a cage like contraption in front of the person’s mouth. These costumes make people fear mental health patients because the costumes play into generalizations about patients. They are getting treated and getting help.Mental health is a serious issue. We need to get rid of the stigma surrounding it, and the insensitive humor.
As my closing statement, I encourage people to wear what they feel comfortable in for Halloween, but to also take time to witness the statement you will be making by wearing your costume, not even to others, but to yourself. If you wear something controversial, some people may be offended by it, and you as a human being need to respect that. There are so many interesting, fun, and beautiful costumes to wear on Halloween, so why would you want to be offensive or succumb to insensitive humor? And remember, the ones I discussed in this article are only SOME offensive costumes. If you see a company creating stereotypical or insulting costumes, call them out on it! By educating yourself and voicing your opinion, you could make a lot of change. That applies to all rules of life.
What a fabulous article. Sad to hear that so many of these costumes are being sold, but props to the young scribe for pointing these out.