These Popular Halloween Costumes Are Offensive

Don't want be the parent of the kid with the offensive Halloween costume? Follow this guide.

by Aaron Stern
Originally Published: 

There are two surefire ways to choose a Halloween costume for your child that is offensive or inappropriate. The first is to choose a costume that crosses the line between dress-up and cultural appropriation. The second is to pick a costume that sexualizes your child. This seems like common sense, but sometimes things can get a little murky. Here, by way of example, we dive into six specific costumes that you may do well to avoid buying or making for your child. Because, let’s face it, you don’t want to be that parent.

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Native American Princess

It wasn’t long ago that dressing up as a Native American was an Indian chief, warrior or princess was considered good, wholesome fun. Today, there is a greater awareness that wearing the clothes – just for fun – of a people who were collectively brutalized by the U.S. government to make room for white settlers is insensitive to the ordeal Native Americans went and the resultant fallout they continue to grapple with. Skip it.

Uma, from the Descendants

Disney’s “The Descendants” is pretty popular with kids right now, and this costume is popping up everywhere. Your child may want to dress up as Uma, from the second installment of the TV movie franchise, but Uma is a black character, and this costume comes with long blue dreads. Hair has long been a flashpoint of racial identity politics in this country, so a white child donning the hair of a black character is treading close to blackface territory. Simply put, how ever well-meaning your white child is in wanting to look and dress like Uma, this costume — and the wig, in particular — is probably best avoided.

Harley Quinn

Originally a Batman villain but right now more popularly associated with the Suicide Squad franchise, the character has a sadistic, sexy schoolgirl vibe. It may be the former that draws your child to her, but it’s the latter that makes this character a questionable costume choice. Because sexualizing your child is weird.

Cat Woman

Same deal as with Harley Quinn. Sexiness is at the root of her villainous charisma, so don’t tread here.

Bat Girl

This one is dependent on the costume. In comics and onscreen Bat Girl vacillates between a wholesome crime fighter and femme fatale. Likewise, these costumes tend to play up either Bat Girl’s seriousness as a bulwark against evil-doing, or the way they speak — typically via short skirts and leggings — to the undercurrent of will they/won’t they chemistry between her and Batman. Which revolves around her being sexy. Which, again, is not for a child.

Other Potentially Offensive Halloween Costumes

There are many costumes that are a matter of depend. Take Moana. Some people argue that, for reasons of cultural appropriation (Hawaiians dealt with colonial oppression, too, and there is a long American history of commodifying Hawaiian culture while simultaneously suppressing its authentic expression), you should not let your child dress as Moana from Disney’s Moana. But there are compelling counterarguments that children should feel free to emulate heroes who are not from their race or culture. Furthermore, because Moana is such a positive role model and an aspirational character, all kids should dress as Moana if they want to.

Varathan offers some insightful guidelines for avoiding offensive costumes. The first, dress as the character, not the race. Hence, dressing as Moana is one thing but dressing as a Hawaiian is quite another (note that this also rules out the cultural genre that was acceptable not long ago: donning a Sombrero to be a Mexican; wearing a headscarf and calling yourself a Sheikh; or putting on a kimono and a bun to become a geisha). The second, more obvious one, is to remember that dressing up in blackface is never, ever okay. Like, never. That includes sleeved costumes that would change your skin color to match that of a given character. It also includes costumes that feature the distinctive hair of another race.

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