Halloween costumes reveal cultural horror

Photo courtesy of HalloweenCostumes.com

Photo courtesy of HalloweenCostumes.com

By Carina Calderón

Candy, costumes, and creeps are just a few reasons Halloween is so popular. Halloween is the one day of the year when everyone is allowed to dress up in ridiculous costumes, beg for candy, and celebrate the thrills that come with horror. As the holiday nears, most of us can be found at a department store searching for a costume that captures the theme of humor, fear, or seduction. From these costume themes, “seduction” is most often associated with women, while “humor” is embedded in stereotypical representations of different ethnic groups. Halloween is notorious in that it illuminates society’s conceptions about women as sexualized objects and encourages cultural appropriation through commercializing different ethnic groups’ dress and practices. 

Browsing through the women’s section requires little search to find a costume that emphasizes a woman’s figure and sex appeal. In fact, on the day of Halloween, many women walk around wearing variations of the same costume: the “schoolgirl,” composed of knee-high socks, short plaid skirts, chunky heels, and unbuttoned shirts. This ensemble is so common that the problematic aspects of it have been overlooked. The “schoolgirl” costume and character reinforces the idea that women, at any age, can be sexual objects, which women unfortunately further advocate by adopting the image with open arms.

Additionally, most Halloween enthusiasts seem to simply encourage, or at least accept, these kinds of costumes as they are often the most popular at any Halloween store. We ignore the fact that if a woman was to wear something as “revealing” on any other day, she would experience public judgment or harassment. This does not go to say that women are not allowed to dress in anyway they want to, but serves to point out how, ironically, women are expected to dress in a conservative manner; yet on Halloween, they are presumed to wear something sexual. With a quick look at the men’s costume selection, it is evident that men have many more options including pants, shirts that cover their belly button, and comfortable shoes. 

Not only does the Halloween costume selection have sexist undertones, but certain outfits also come across as racist. For example, consider the “Native American” costumes. By putting on this offensive ensemble, individuals neglect the diversity within Native American communities and commodify Native American clothing into products for humor. By popularizing a single image of the Native American through costume, one reinforces harmful stereotypes about the culture and prolongs ignorance in society. As a result, the history of oppression is forgotten as people walk around essentially mocking the very culture they are wishing to represent.

Many would combat such racism with the simple statement: “It’s just a joke.” However, by doing so, they demonstrate what little care we have towards the discriminatory practices of our institutions. We believe that  stores would not sell a costume that is overtly racist, but the fact that ethnicity-based clothing is put on sale for our enjoyment says otherwise. In essence, just because the costume does not offend you does not mean that it is not considered offensive towards other cultures. Before buying these items, people should ask themselves why the costumes are considered humorous and how they are adding to the conversation of racism in our society. 

Halloween is meant to be filled with laughter and enjoyable thrills, but these costumes cannot go overlooked any longer. Until we notice just exactly what we are selling, women will continue to be sexualized and the commercialization of culture will persist.

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