7 Halloween Costumes That You Probably Didn’t Realize Were Ableist
by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro
Woman painting face for Halloween night party
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'Tis the season of pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, and haunted houses, but not everyone is into celebrating Halloween. The holiday tends to be the one day of the year that people wrongly believe that it's okay to be offensive towards marginalized communities in the name of "jokes," and many times, inappropriate costumes get a pass. In addition to an abundance of culturally appropriative costumes, Halloween is a hotbed for ableist costumes, and many folks who live without a disability feel like it's okay to make light of disabilities through their costume choice. FYI, it's never OK. As someone who struggles with mental illness, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt othered on Halloween by people without disabilities dressing up in a straightjacket, or creating fake self-harm scars out of makeup.

Halloween may be fun for some, but for many disabled folks — especially those of us with mental illness — it can be a triggering night, and possibly induce panic attacks. Not to mention, much of the commercialization of Halloween relies on exploiting those with a physical or mental disability, which in turn reinforces negative stigma against those same people. Honestly, there’s no excuse to be ableist, but especially not on Halloween. There are literally thousands of costume ideas to choose from that don’t further oppress disabled people, so let's do better this year. Below are some of the most common ableist Halloween costumes, and the reasons why you should avoid them.

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"Anna Rexia"

Who thought is was a good idea to glamorize anorexia, the mental illness with the highest mortality rate? The "Anna Rexia" costume makes its rounds on the internet every few Halloweens, and faces a ton of backlash from folks with eating disorders. I can tell you from firsthand experience, there's nothing sexy about losing your hair, syncope (aka, fainting due to low blood pressure), or constant cavities. In case you didn't realize, anorexia is a mental illness and a disability, and mocking someone with anorexia in your costume is ableist, end of story. Though the original costume that caused outrage is no longer available for purchase, let's hope no one copies it this year for the sake of being offensive.

Three Blind Mice

Apparently, according to Twitter, the "Three Blind Mice" is popular group Halloween costume. Three University of Wisconsin students were investigated for wearing the costume just a couple years ago, after peers reported the costume for mocking blind people. Let's just agree to all follow a general rule: If you don't have a certain disability, don't pretend you do for the sake of a Halloween costume. If you're looking for unique group costume ideas that are not ableist, Pinterest has hundreds, including this Cat In The Hat trio costume.

The Sexy Mental Health Patient

Any version of the sexy mental patient, straightjacket, psycho, or "Skitzo" costume is just plain gross. These costumes — especially costumes geared towards women — either fetishize mental illness, or they flat out demonize it, despite the fact that mentally ill people are typically nonviolent, and are over ten times more likely to be victims of violence than the general population. I don't care if it's one day out of the year — if you insist on reinforcing dangerous tropes that will negatively affect 1 in 5 Americans who live with mental illness, you seriously need to reevaluate your priorities.

Zombie Soldier

It's illegal to dress up as a member of the military in the United States, so why do people think Halloween is any exception? It's just plain disrespectful to make light of the brutality so many military member witness. Not only do some veterans develop lifelong post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but almost 25 percent of veterans who served in combat live with a mental or physical disability. If you truly care about the wellbeing of military members, avoid soldier costumes that trivialize the struggles veterans deal with.

Blind Referee

Carolyn Gunn, president of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, said, "There’s enough of a barrier going on for people with disabilities, [the blind referee costume] is just a mockery of the whole thing." Though Gunn and the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians expressed outrage about this costume way back in 2012, Spirit Halloween is still selling the tasteless costume. TBH, the "blind referee" pun — making fun of refs who make bad calls in a sports game — isn't particularly clever or funny in the first place, so there's not anything to lose if you avoid the costume out of respect for people with this disability.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller is arguably the most widely-recognized disabled author and activist, yet she is often still a punchline in ableist jokes, and a popular Halloween costume for people who think it's funny to mock people with disabilities. Dressing up as this famous figure for the holiday reduces Keller to her disability, despite her many accomplishments, and really needs to be avoided.

Car Crash Victim

Do I really need to even explain why it is insensitive to dress up as a victim of a car accident? According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, 20 to 50 million people are injured or disabled worldwide due to car accidents. This costume makes light of a life-changing event that can often cause disability — invisible and visible — and kills over 1 million people annually. If you want to dress up as a zombie for Halloween, you definitely don't need to specify that you're an accident victim.

Costumes With Mobility Devices

Using a mobility device as part of a Halloween costume, such as this “Funny Grandma” one, is disrespectful to folks who truly need a wheelchair or walker to do daily activities. Accessibility for folks with mobility aids is still a glaring issue in the United States, so wearing a costume that you can take off at the end of Hallow’s eve is ableist, and inconsiderate to those who are not able-bodied. If you want to dress up like a Grandma, go for it — just leave the cane out of it.

For Halloween this year, let's get creative about our costumes, and try to avoid ableist imagery. There are so many Halloween costume ideas out there that there's literally no excuse for wearing one that will contribute to stigma — whether about mental health, physical disability, or anything else.