Poor taste or too politically correct? The Halloween costume debate

Has society gone too far in it what it considers to be inappropriate?. File

Every Halloween it seems, people wear costumes society has deemed “inappropriate” – like black face, which African studies experts argue is never okay.

This year a growing number of institutions have taken a more proactive approach to curb potentially offensive outfits by developing strategies and even explicit policies to prevent people from donning controversial get-ups.

The student union at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., for example, prepared a list of prohibited costumes for its annual Halloween bash. It included any form of headdress, costumes that mock suicide or rape, those depicting transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner, or culturally appropriated outfits.

READ MORE: The psychology of why some people wear inappropriate costumes on Halloween

That means no sexy geishas or “Pocahotties.”

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“As a native woman, I am 10 times more likely to be raped and murdered than any other woman,” Amy Willier from the Moonstone Creation Native Art Gallery said last year.

“That’s a scary fact. The fact that people dress like we’re pornography, it instills in somebody else that it’s okay.”

Willier and others were upset at a Calgary costume store for selling feathered headdress.

In the U.S., one school district banned clown costumes this Halloween, amid the “creepy clown” phenomenon.

A society of B.C. clowns who do hospital visits even asked a Kelowna costume store “not to sell clown stuff,” according to Victoria Phillips of Calowna Costumes.

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Some sites have also featured Donald Trump in their list of “most offensive Halloween costumes ever.” The reasoning Huffington Post gave for including the presidential candidate on the list: “Why would you want to dress up as “a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther” for Halloween?”

‘We have to be really careful’

Such approaches don’t always sit right with groups concerned with issues of censorship.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says Halloween forces people to walk a particularly fine line as they juggle cultural sensitivity with freedom of expression.

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Equality Program Director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv said Halloween is steeped in a long tradition of social activism which would not have been possible if participants were excessively concerned with offending others.

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She said the tradition of wearing costumes, for instance, often gave repressed members of the LGBTQ community opportunities to express themselves more fully at a time when such actions were discouraged.

Context is everything when it comes to cultural costumes, she said, adding past and present social conditions can often conspire to make a costume feel offensive to the group being depicted.

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She said protesters should have every right to voice their displeasure, but celebrants should also be allowed to be offensive.

“We have to be very careful not to repress that kind of expression,” she said.

“It’s very important there be room for all kinds of different personal and political and subversive and dissenting expression, and Halloween is a time when that really happens.”

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WATCH: Marijuana baby, cigarette baby, sexy bin Laden, sexy Ebola nurse…do any of these costumes go too far? The Morning Show team rates them yay or nay.

Here are a few more costumes that have been called offensive.

SOUND OFF: Let us know what you think of them in the comments section below.


A costume personifying anorexia, named ‘Anna Rexia’ has been going viral thanks to a blog post. Screen Shot

Anorexia survivor Jessi Davin will be the first to tell you that trying to embody a potentially fatal mental illness isn’t funny. She shared her strong opinions on the costume in a blog post that first went viral a couple of years ago.

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“Anorexia is nothing to party about or laugh at. It’s real, it’s deadly, and should not be marketed as a slutty outfit. Want to dress as ‘Anna Rexia’? Just go as a Vampire, or a Zombie. Because 1/3 of us are dead.”

Caitlyn Jenner

Poor taste or too politically correct? The Halloween costume debate - image

This costume sparked an online petition in 2015, calling on a costume retailer “to stop exploiting Caitlyn Jenner with a transphobic costume.”

It generated a lot of angry tweets, including this one from Gigi Hudson: “If you dress up as Caitlyn Jenner for Halloween I’m setting your costume on fire whether you’re still in it or not.”

A homeless person

Poor taste or too politically correct? The Halloween costume debate - image

Because being homeless is apparently funny.

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Anything sexually demeaning

Poor taste or too politically correct? The Halloween costume debate - image

You likely won’t win over any self-respecting women when you wear a costume like this.

— With files from Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press and Kelly Hayes, Global News


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