7 Halloween Costumes That Are Never “Just A Joke”

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Halloween is just a few short days away, which means everyone is breaking out their spookiest, funniest, and most unique costumes for the spooky holiday. While getting creative with your attire for Halloween parties or costume contests may be a part of your Oct. 31 traditions, it's important to remember that offensive Halloween costumes will never be funny, cool, or "edgy." On top of looking like a jerk, wearing one of these costumes can add to the discrimination that marginalized communities already experience. So no, these costumes aren't "just a joke" — they can really hurt others who are also just trying to enjoy their holiday.

Yes, half the fun of Halloween is getting to pretend to be someone (or something!) you're not for an evening — a vampire, a famous actor, a werewolf, a member of the Serpents from Riverdale. However, Halloween doesn't mean human decency should fall to the wayside. Yet, like clockwork, someone goes viral across the internet every single Halloween for wearing a costume that is racist, ableist, misogynistic, culturally appropriative, or all of the above.

Here's the thing: I'm not trying to be the costume police, but you can find funny or one-of-a-kind costume without being offensive or hurtful. In fact, it's probably a heck of a lot easier to find a Halloween costume that isn't offensive than to pick out one that is. When on the search for your perfect Halloween garb, here are seven halloween costumes that will never be funny that you should stay far, far away from.


"Psych Ward" Patient

Dressing up as a "sexy psych ward" patient on Halloween can not only be triggering to those who live with mental illnesses, but also plays into mental health stigmas that already exist — including that mentally ill people are inherently "violent," or possessed by evil spirits. Considering the Association for Psychological Sciences reported in 2014 that studies have found stigma is one of the most pervasive barriers to mental health care, you should probably skip the Halloween costumes that perpetuate these tropes.

As UCLA Clinical Professor Dr. Joe Pierre wrote in an article for Psychology Today, "Mental illness is not an amusement park ride. Mental illness is not a horror movie. Mental illness is not a Halloween costume. Don’t dress your child up in a straitjacket, and don’t wear one yourself."


A Nazi

There is no excuse for dressing up on Halloween as a Nazi. Period. The Nazi Party committed horrifying acts of genocide and violence against Jewish people, gay people, disabled people, and other groups that did not fit in with their white nationalist ethos. Further, white supremacist groups whose ideologies are scarily similar to WWII-era Nazism are still prominent today. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated in 2017 that at least 100 white nationalist groups exist in the U.S. There is nothing funny about dressing up in the style of this hate group.


A Costume That Uses Black, Brown, Or Yellowface

In 2018, it should be universally understood that using black, brown, or yellowface as part of your halloween costume is completely unacceptable. If you're dressing up as a character whose race is different to your own, your costume should be recognizable without having to change your skin color or facial features. As fellow Bustler Ayana Lage wrote in 2017, "if there is any doubt about whether or not your costume's use of face paint could be construed as racially insensitive, it's better not to do it."


"Native Princess" Costumes

You don't have to look far to find Halloween outlets selling costumes that objectify Indigenous women, or appropriate native cultures. But wearing these costumes isn't simply just in poor taste — they can have damaging consequences.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) reported that 45 percent of American and Alaska native women have been subjected to some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, and much of these costumes perpetuate fetishization of Indigenous women.

"These costumes paint Native American history like it’s part of a fairy tale. But, we’re real people. We’re still here," California-based makeup artist Zoe Dejecacion told Vox. "These costumes are taking our real stories, twisting them, and sexualizing them, and furthering the dehumanization of Native women.”


A Geisha

Many people misinterpret the role of Geishas in Japanese culture, leaving the door open for "sexy Geisha" costumes that not only dehumanize these (very real) women, contribute to racist tropes about Japanese women. As Jeff Yang explained in a 2013 article for The Wall Street Journal, geisha costumes not only are prone to being portrayed with yellowface, but they sustain the racist stereotype that Asian women should be "passive," and "servile."


"The Wall" Costumes

While the company Party City is no longer selling their "Wall" costume that came under fire last Halloween, HelloGiggles reports Amazon currently has a similar costume for sale that says "Mexico Will Pay." I wish this didn't have to be said in the first place, but dressing up as Trump's border wall is not funny whatsoever. The Trump administration has put policies in place that are expressly anti-immigrant, and that particularly hurt families, and children seeking refuge by crossing the U.S. and Mexico border. According to an Oct. 26 report from CNN, 220 children from immigrant families still remain in U.S. custody — despite a June order from a federal judge set to reunite families that had been separated at the border. A costume making fun of Trump's proposed border wall only normalizes these kinds of policies.


Using Physical Disability As Part Of Your "Costume"

Dressing up as a person with a disability for Halloween — whether that means using a mobility device when you don't need it, disfiguring yourself with makeup, or wearing fake scars — is super ableist. Disabled people still face massive barriers when it comes to receiving quality health care. Not to mention, they experience profound discrimination in public and in the workplace. Pretending to be disabled for "fun" on Halloween is one of the ultimate forms of privilege, and not at all funny to those of us with disabilities.


Basically, bigotry is never funny. You can celebrate Halloween in style without belittling, mocking, or imitating communities that already face prejudice. Better yet, your costume will 100 percent be better off for it.