LOUISE O'NEILL: 'That was when I first learned that girls were supposed to look pretty rather than frightening on October 31'

This is my favourite time of the year. The evenings getting darker, the fires lighting, there’s no need to carry a parasol with me at all times lest a single ray of sunshine touch my skin. 

Despite my fear that organised gangs of mice are crouching under the piles of crispy leaves, waiting for me, autumn is an absolute delight. I used to love Halloween too — what’s not to love? It’s basically sanctioned gluttony, which is the best of all the seven sins — but recently, my enjoyment has soured.

Now, I clutch my phone in hand, nervously scrolling through Instagram, wondering which friend will decide that ‘Deeply Offensive’ is their primary aim when choosing their costume. It’s bad enough during the summer, when every white girl in Ireland decides that bindis and Native American headdresses are somehow acceptable festival fashion (Newsflash: They’re not) but there’s something about Halloween that causes vast numbers of people to entirely lose their sense of reason.

I’m not talking about sexy outfits here. While the need to pre-fix every costume with the word sexy has led to such travesties as ‘Sexy Pikachu’ and ‘Sexy Crayon’ (if you are dating someone who finds Crayola sexy, I would suggest changing your name and going into witness protection immediately), I am, as always, less interested in criticising women for dressing as a ‘provocative rainbow’ than I am in examining a culture that constantly reduces women to their physical attractiveness and the subsequent overwhelming pressure that puts on women to conform.

When I was a child, my father would create elaborate homemade costumes for my sister and me, and when I was five he dressed me up as a Goblin Ghost for a friend’s Halloween party. I arrived at my friend’s house, complete with white bedsheet (listen, it was the ’90s) and grey face paint, and I found that every other little girl there was dressed as a princess or a fairy. They screamed in horror when they saw me and spent the rest of the night running away from me because I was too ‘scary’. That was when I first learned that girls were supposed to look pretty rather than frightening on October 31.

So no, I’m not offended by women wanting to look attractive on Halloween. But every year, without fail, I am offended by the rampant cultural appropriation that takes place. Cultural appropriation is defined as the “adoption of elements of one culture by a member of another culture”.

Writing for Salon, Kovie Biakolo said that “the difference is power. In particular, the power of the privileged to borrow and normalise a cultural element of another group, while the appropriated group is often demonised and excluded because of that every cultural element”.

This is why it is absolutely unacceptable for white Americans to dress as Native Americans, ignoring the horrific history of white people robbing those indigenous peoples of their lands. That is why there was an outcry last year when Disney released Moana costumes for children, body-suits adorned with traditional Maui tattoos that were essentially a form of ‘brownface’. And this is why blackface (for example, when a white person decides that they want to be Bill Cosby for the night — because why not make light of sexual assault too, while you’re at it — and paints their skin black) is so sickening. That you think you can ‘try on’ someone’s race and then wash it off in the morning, ignoring the devastating struggle that people of colour face in their daily lives because of systemic and structural racism, is ignorance at its most destructive. Someone else’s skin tone is never a costume. (Do not mention White Chicks. White people are not oppressed. White people do not have to worry about their teenage sons being shot in the chest because they had the temerity to wear a hoodie outside.)

I have seen other costumes advertised that have made me wince. There’s the ‘Anna Rexia’ outfit, a skeleton print dress with a measuring tape around the waist. Thank you so much, Costume Designers, for ridiculing the disease that has a mortality rate 12 times higher than that of all other causes of death for young women. In the US, you have the option of wearing a ‘Border Patrol’ costume because who cares about the families living in terror that they might face deportation under their current administration. If that’s too subtle for you, then ‘The Wall’ is available, a fake brick costume for anyone who can’t wait for Donald Trump to fulfil his mission of building a giant barrier to keep those Other People out. Making fun of disadvantaged people and enforcing racist rhetoric is what Halloween is all about, isn’t it?

In the end, it’s very simple. Just don’t be a *insert expletive here* for Halloween 2017. There are so many costumes that you can choose that won’t make you appear to be a monster. (Unless you’re literally dressing as a monster.) Some of the most popular costumes this year are predicted to be Pennywise from IT, Wonder Woman, and, eh, a giraffe (?!) — none of those are likely to raise any hackles. Go forth and have fun, my friends.

If you are dating someone who finds Crayola sexy, I would suggest changing your name and going into witness protection immediately


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