October 31 just rounded the corner, indicating the time of parties, dances, candy and most importantly, costumes. Halloween costumes are one of the most important components of the holiday, mostly because they provide an opportunity to show creativity and demonstrate individuality through clothing. From pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating, to haunted houses and decorations, Halloween brings all sorts of festivities with it. While it is important to have fun and express our creativity, there are certain boundaries which should not be crossed. We must consider who our costumes could potentially impact before deciding on them. For instance, costumes can inappropriately adopt certain parts of an authentic culture, or relate to past mass trauma of a group of people. Although many of us make sure to reflect on a costume’s significance before settling on the one for the year, it is still possible to be hurtful to people in different instances, even if it isn’t clear at first sight.
Recently, “The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” was released on Netflix, a biographical thriller about a notorious serial killer who not only murdered 17 people, but also continued to dismember and eat his victims. Although his crimes dated back to 1978, Dahmer’s story was more publicized with the Netflix show. This Halloween, there have been multiple people dressing up as Jeffery Dahmer, even going as far to dress up their own kids as the infamous murderer. Along with it being blatantly inappropriate to dress up as a real serial killer, the costume is also a microaggression that’s even racist on some level. Dahmer’s victims were all men of color, the youngest being just 14. Costumes that are inspired by Dahmer perpetuate the idea that the crimes and murder he committed towards people of color are closer to a joke rather than something serious. It over-sensualizes and overlooks his extremely devastating acts towards other human beings. Dressing up as Jeffery Dahmer also directly affects these victim’s families, many of whom went through this trauma years ago and are still facing today. Halloween is the perfect time to dress as something scary, but basic conduct and sensitivity still needs to be maintained.
Another way in which costumes can be misinterpreted is in the realm of cultural appreciation and sensitivity. In recent times, there has been a growth of people dressing up in cultural clothing and calling it a costume. While this may seem harmless, using a group’s traditional clothing and making it into something like a costume—sometimes even sexualizing the clothing in the process—is bound to have an effect on that community. A specific example is Pocahontas, a Native American woman belonging to the Powhatan people. You may have seen Pocahontas costumes in store, or even while trick-or-treating. The widely-known Disney movie not only romanticizes Pocahontas’s story, but also perpetuates a fabricated version of her life, which was actually a story of kidnapping and abuse. Pocahontas lived during an incredibly dangerous time for Indigenous tribes in the area in which she was raised. When she was around 16, Pocahontas was kidnapped by white colonists and allegedly raped and abused by her captors. Her love with John Smith was also extremely romanticized, as their marriage was more of a formality, especially regarding their age difference of about 15 years. The movie sugarcoats the trauma that Indigenous people had to face during those times, and may still face today. Costumes of Pocahontas and other Native American peoples sold in stores are known to be tacky, unrealistic, and insulting to those who identify as Native American. People are taking the culture of a group that has endured oppression and forced assimilation for a long period of time and making an aesthetic of something that does not belong to them. This can also be applied for any culture that isn’t our own, specifically in the Halloween context.
Although Halloween weekend should be fun for us and our friends, we have to also be aware and sensitive when choosing what to wear. Our costumes may not explicitly convey systemic oppression or racism, but they can still support and enable such hatred against marginalized groups and people. Before choosing your costumes for Halloween in the future, make sure to keep this in mind and reflect thoroughly before finally settling on your perfect costume for the year.