Life&Style’s Isobel Doyle questions whether the outrage sparked by particular halloween costumes is justified or simply an exaggeration
Following the recent controversy of Fashion Nova releasing a Geisha costume this year, the issue of cultural appropriation has never been more prudent. The ever-growing anxiety of unconsciously insulting another culture, can only be inflamed on a holiday rooted in dress-up and fantasy, and in a society which is becoming ever more aware of diversity and cultural norms. Consequently, some organisations have dedicated themselves to educating individuals on how to avoid offence at Halloween. This is certainly true for the California India Circle, an organisation which prides itself in ensuring proper education of Native American cultural heritage at the University of North Carolina. On various social media platforms, including Twitter, a promotional poster titled ‘My culture is not a costume’ has been posted, detailing a discussion on cultural appropriation – which will be held on 23rd October this year. The kickback from institutions such as these can only be expected given the extensive evidence of cultures, specifically Native American Indian, being stereotyped and hyperbolised.
Similarly to Fashion Nova, the clothes company Yandy came under heavy fire in late September after creating an entire category of ‘sexy Indian costumes’, only a week after being forced to remove an equally sexualised ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ costume. Evidently, the fashion industry’s consistent failure to promote the dignity of minority cultures is a direct result of the caricaturing that is, inaccurately, believed to be required in order to fit in with the melodramatic premise of Halloween. It seems impossible not to point out here that the major issue of these fashion controversies were their sexualisation by the manufacturer, which secondhandedly insulted the cultures they were stylising. Would it not be fair to say, therefore, that Halloween propels aspects of society that attack equality and diversity? The Independent certainly seems to think so. Their report ‘How not to dress like an offensive idiot on Halloween’ summarises the pressure placed on, primarily white, young females to dress in a way that is offensive to both the cultures they are impersonating, and to themselves: “I’m a white lady but the only thing I can think of to dress as is a sexy Native American woman”.
Some may argue that, in reality, accusations of cultural prejudice that are closely intertwined with this holiday, create unnecessary fear surrounding what should be a celebration. One Twitter user went so far to say “some costumes might be in poor taste, but there is no such thing as cultural appropriation”. Rightfully, the definition of cultural appropriation seems to be vague at best. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as: “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, without showing that you understand or respect this culture”. The lack of clarity in regard to what qualifies as demonstrating proper ‘understanding’ and ‘respect’, has led many on social media platforms to question what is actually acceptable on Halloween. For instance, a twitter user created a yes/no online poll earlier this month, seeking to gain a consensus on the acceptability of three different outfits. The results were as follows: Fortune Teller – 62% Yes 38% No, Greek Goddess – 85% Yes 15% No and Belly Dancer – 69% Yes 31% No.
It would be easy to conclude that, from this, the majority of people believe the issue of cultural appropriation to be overexaggerated, or even non-existent. In fairness, the concept of costume choice carrying the weight of these wider social issues does, ostensibly, seems a far stretch. However, an age demographic conducted by the National Confectioners Association in regard to dress-up at Halloween, found that half of millennials, in comparison to just thirteen percent of the rest of the population, planned to wear a costume in 2014. Clearly, the target audience for costume wearing has evolved from an originally much younger base, to focus on teenagers – specifically females, as shown in the sexualisation of a large percentage of Halloween based clothing. The seemingly arbitrary association of cultural appropriation – which is predominantly displayed through sexist methods – with the October holiday, is undoubtedly an issue that has more complex social origins and implications.
But, in isolation, is Halloween really such a danger? Are we looking to find some sort of conspiracy in order to fit with the unmistakably turbulent times of cultural and sexual identity? Should we in fact “be whatever we want to be, its f***ing Halloween!” (anonymous twitter user)