8 Questions To Ask Yourself If You Think Your Halloween Costume Might Be Offensive

by Carolyn de Lorenzo

With October nearly half over now (seriously, how did that even happen?), Halloween will be here in no time at all. As such, many of you are probably gleefully making plans to outdo yourselves with your most epic Halloween costume to date. After all, Halloween is pretty much the only excuse you have to play dress up as a grown up — and more power to you on that point, folks.

That said, there are a few things to consider when designing your upcoming Halloween ensemble. To wit: Halloween should be a fun occasion where no one gets hurt. And that means thinking about whether or not your costume is insensitive, or in poor taste.

How can you tell if your Halloween costume is offensive, you ask? Truth be told, if you’re asking yourself that question in the first place, that’s probably your first clue that you may want to rethink your costume. It's seriously not too late to swap it out for something that doesn't give you a weird feeling in your gut, or make you think, "Hmm, maybe this isn't the best option to wear to my neighbor's party." If you find yourself defending your choice to others who object to your costume, it may be time to hightail it back to the dressing room. To that end, and just to make sure, here are some questions to ask yourself to avoid wearing an inadvertently offensive costume this year.


Is It Racist?

It should go without saying that it is never OK to wear a Halloween costume that plays off racist stereotypes. That means any Halloween costume that flattens an entire culture into a costume. Furthermore, if a costume involves blackface, brownface, or yellowface as an integral component, it is racist. Period.


Does It Appropriate Someone Else's Culture?

Cultural appropriation happens when people from a dominant culture take elements of a marginalized group's culture and use them. Even if it's intended as an "homage," making a Halloween costume with clothing or items from another culture is really insensitive.


Does It Reference Real Violence Or Trauma?

Dressing up as perpetrators of violence, or poking fun at anyone else's trauma via your Halloween costume, is in bad taste. Zombies and werewolves are one thing, but minimizing the impact that real violence and trauma have on people's lives — yes, even if it happened "way in the past" — is a terrible idea.


Does It Promote Body Shaming?

If your costume hinges on the notion that any body type is humorous, grotesque, or otherwise up for ridicule, it's probably a good indication that your Halloween costume is in bad taste.


Does It Sexualize A Group Of People?

Lots of Halloween costumes are designed to be "sexy," and there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But when a Halloween costume sexualizes an entire group of people, it becomes deeply offensive. For one, violence against women is a major issue in this country, particularly against women of color and women who are multiply marginalized. For another, it also contributes to harmful racial stereotyping, meaning it is also racist.


Does It Contribute To Stigma Around Mental Health?

If your Halloween costume promotes mental health stigma, shames people who live with mental illness, or makes fun of mental illness as something scary or abnormal, it is offensive.


Does It Minimize Sexual Assault?

Discussions around sexual harassment and assault have been a major flashpoint in the national conversation over this past year, but that doesn't mean recognizable figures tied to these discussions would make "funny" Halloween costumes — in fact, it means the opposite. If a Halloween costume pokes fun at or otherwise trivializes sexual harassment, assault, or trauma, it's definitely not funny, and definitely offensive.


Is It Sexist?

Does your costume demean, disrespect, objectify, or minimize the struggles that women face everyday? If so, maybe ask yourself if one night of fun is really worth running the risk of making women around you feel awful.


While you definitely have the right to express yourself in the ways you want to this Halloween, it's also important to consider the impact of those choices on others. As you're plotting out your costume this year, note that you've got tons of fun options to play with — while still respecting the identities and life experiences of those around you.