Halloween is a fun, free-spirited holiday that offers both kids and adults the chance to escape reality for an evening. Costumes allow you and your kids to become someone or something else entirely, and get pretty creative in the process. For the vast majority of people, it's a fun, innocent game of dress up. However, there are pitfalls to watch out for, especially when you're choosing a costume for your child. Avoiding all of the sexist, racist Halloween costumes your kid should not wear this year is a good start.
If insensitive children’s costumes sound like an outdated problem, they aren’t. Recently several costume sites pulled a “World War Two evacuee girl” outfit, facing backlash for essentially selling an Anne Frank Halloween costume, according to the BBC. Decried as insensitive and trivializing, the costume is maybe not the best way to introduce children to the realities of history. Plus, just last year Walmart faced scrutiny for selling an Israeli soldier costume for kids, according to the New York Post. Make of this what you will, but both costumes are still available for sale from some retailers.
What’s the problem with these costumes? Well, they take away from what Halloween should be about for kids: fun. It’s different when adults put on deliberately satiric or political costumes, because they’re (hopefully) making that choice with the full understanding of the meaning. Kids, though, typically just want to enjoy fun costumes and candy. With the zillions of amazing Halloween costumes for children available today, there’s absolutely no need to put an insensitive or politically charged costume on your tot. Your kid probably just wants to dress as Spiderman or Pikachu anyway, so let them enjoy this time.
1Political Costumes For Little Kids
Sure, some kids are interested in politics from a young age, and this carries over into their costume choices. I know someone who, at the age of 8, demanded to dress as Nixon for Halloween. It happens.
But for the most part, is it really fair to put a little kid in a costume based on ideas they don't understand and aren't old enough to espouse or reject? Plus, political, adult-themed costumes are not all that fun for the kids, who really just want to be their favorite superhero or a Minion or Elsa for the evening. Does your kid really want to wear the baby Mr. Trump costume ($50, Costumeish), or are you just looking to amuse the adults in your circle? Seriously: please leave any and all Trump or Putin costume decisions to consenting adults. It's only fair.
2Culturally Appropriative Costumes
The conversation surrounding Halloween costumes, racial and cultural stereotypes, and potential appropriation is fraught with controversy. Some people bristle at the thought of a “politically correct” Halloween, but it is kind to approach your kid’s costume with empathy for others. You can certainly dress a kid in this baby geisha costume ($50, Toys) above, left, or this child geisha costume ($18+, Amazon), but maybe do some research first? Also, note that several of the reviews for the costume call it “racist,” a “mockery,” “offensive,” and “inappropriate.” It feels unfair to put a child in such a potentially problematic costume when — again — there are so, so many other options available.
Likewise, something like the toddler sultan costume ($28, Amazon) could also be a little sticky. According to what may be the best Amazon costume review out there: “I bought it for my 3 years son. He looks so cute. Just one star missing, because that's not for sure an Arabian sultan costume, it is Aladdin costume. I'm saying that because I'm Egyptian and I just know my surrounding cultures better.” It’s a reasonable take on the costume, and there’s no way you can look at that kid and not see Aladdin, right?
And the "sweet dream catcher" costume ($29 - $39, Halloween Costumes) is problematic for the same reason Party City's "First Nation" costumes are problematic.
No, I’m not here to yell at little girls for wanting to dress up as princesses for Halloween. That’s cool. Rather, some parents have noted that Halloween costumes for little girls are sometimes sexualized in a weird way, according to HuffPost. For instance, the toddler girls cop costume ($30, Party City) has a much different look compared to the toddler police officer costume ($30, Party City). Also, pretty sure "nurses" don't wear dresses?
To be fair, though, there is a girls classic police officer uniform ($30, Party City) available as well, so maybe costume shops are moving away from such strictly gendered costumes for kids. Also, many kid’s costumes are sold as unisex now, so that’s worth noting.
This infant sumo costume ($25 - $30, Halloween Costumes) manages to touch on cultural appropriation and body shaming in one fell swoop. When a "fat" tummy is a key part of a costume, maybe think twice?
Body shapes are not costumes. For instance, the big ballerina costume ($30, Amazon) — which is marketed to both adults and children — just looks silly at first, but it brings up some problematic questions. Is there something inherently funny or worthy of mocking about a larger person who wants to dance? If you’re out in this costume, how will it make persons of a larger size feel about themselves? (For the record, I know many plus-sized people who are amazing dancers, so it isn’t even based on truth.) So many other hilarious costumes are available, so there’s no need to make people of any size the butt of a joke.
5Anything That Even Seems Like Blackface
OK, look: just don’t do it. Don’t even sort of approximate it. And lest you think these costumes are a thing of the past, just a few days ago a Facebook post from Fort Bragg showed two children in blackface and puppet costumes, sparking controversy and apologies, according to the Charlotte Observer. Although young children may not understand the implications behind this costume choice, adults sure as hell should. Seriously: other races are not costumes. If your kid wants to dress as a specific person of another race, there are ways to do so respectfully, according to ThoughtCo. For instance, a sparkly glove and red jacket are enough to convey a Michael Jackson look: you don’t need to mess around with skin tone.
Sure this infant time out prisoner costume ($20, Halloween Costumes) makes a joke (time out? get it?) ... but the the taste level of dressing a baby up like a prisoner is highly questionable. As Mic reported, the total incarcerated population in the U.S. is a "staggering 2.4 million — a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years." They also note that one in every 108 adults was in prison or jail in 2012; three out of four young black men in Washington, D.C., can expect to serve time behind bars; and eighty percent of defendants cannot afford a lawyer: "Tens of thousands of people go to jail every year without ever talking to a lawyer or going to trial."
Prison in the United States is really no joking matter.
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