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Character Vs. Culture: What To Know About Costumes This Halloween

October is flying by faster than I can comprehend, which means we are in peak Halloween planning season. Many people are still debating what to dress up as whether it is to go to frat parties or just have a close get-together with friends. No matter what your celebration is, it is important to be considerate when deciding what you are going to wear. It is totally fine if your costume is of someone who doesn’t traditionally look like you, but this is what you need to know if you’re planning on dressing up as someone with a different skin tone. 

It’s 2021, and we are no stranger to Twitter wars, and the term “cultural appropriation” trending. When I’m choosing my costumes, I always like to keep the idea of “character vs. culture.” Most pop culture is made for everyone to enjoy, no matter your background. Of course, certain shows and movies are more special or sentimental for certain demographics, but creators generally want their art and production to be appreciated by a diverse audience. Therefore, I think it’s okay to dress up as a character. For example, dressing up as the Disney animated Pocohantas is okay, but dressing up as a Native American in “traditional clothing” is not. I use the term “traditional clothing” loosely as most costumes are a mockery rather than accurate. Even if you found clothing that was culturally accurate, you still shouldn’t wear it, unless you are Native American. As an African American, I have no problem seeing people wear a Tiana or another Black character’s costume; it actually makes me happy to see that certain films touched a lot of people. However, I wouldn’t be happy if I saw someone who wasn’t Black dressed in traditional clothing from Africa or the Caribbean, for example, and make a mockery of it.  The same logic goes for all Disney princesses and their respective cultures, as well as any pop culture character at all. Pop culture is for everyone and we shouldn’t gatekeep it as long as we remain respectful. 

Next, remember Halloween for what it is: a day to dress up and have fun. You may be dressing up as someone different from you, but don’t take the act too far. Don’t use a fake accent, blatantly lie or make stereotypical gestures or movements. Remember that the race or culture your character comes from is not a part of who you are and this costume is just something for a holiday. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of options for character costumes that looked like me so I often wore costumes of figures with similar skin tones. In high school, I dressed up as Moana multiple times but each time I did, I acknowledged that it was just a costume. I’m African American, not Pacific Islander. I admire and respect their culture but I acknowledge that it is not mine. All I can do is learn about it and appreciate it. There is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.

Please, and I can not stress this enough, please be mindful of your makeup! It is common sense that blackface and brownface are wrong, but I am going to remind you in case you forgot that making your skin tone darker than it naturally is is wrong and offensive. This point doesn’t just apply to the shade of foundation you use. Don’t use makeup to make yourself have ethnic features you do not have. Using colored contacts and/or white eyeliner to make your eyes appear big and bright like cartoon characters: fine. Using eyeliner to alter the look of your eye shape and make you appear like a different race: not fine.

Finally, when in doubt, check with a friend. We all have that one friend who is super accountable and knowledgeable. Also, don’t be afraid to go with your gut feeling. When you are putting a costume together and think even for a second, “this feels wrong,” trust it. We often overlook those thoughts but sometimes they are the most important. 

Halloween is supposed to be a time of joy, laughter, and lots of candy. Keep a good spirit and good intentions when choosing and wearing your costume. This article is not meant to stress you out, but to remind you to be mindful. Have fun this Halloween. Be safe, and if you can’t find a costume, remember Halloween is the one day a year in girl world where you can put on lingerie and animal ears and no other girl can judge you for it.

BriannaRose is a UCLA Communications major and Film/TV minor who aspires to break boundaries and stigmas. As an aspiring creative director, she works on student films and photography projects, and has professional experience in both fashion public relations and internal communications for cable. In addition to writing, BriannaRose volunteers at local animal shelters and competes in pageants. She currently represents the city of West Hollywood in the National American Miss system.
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