My Identity Isn't Your Costume

[Content Note: Discussion and imagery of fat hatred; racism; transphobia; dehumanization; appropriation; Othering.]

Every year, I end up writing a post about offensive Halloween costumes, whether it's costumes that uphold the rape culture; treating stereotypical markers of an(other) ethnicity as a costume; or some other gross manifestation of Othering for which Halloween is used an excuse.

Yesterday, Shaker Mod aforalpha emailed me this article about the Sikh Coalition having successfully persuaded Walmart and RiteAid to stop selling "turban and beard" Halloween costumes. I am thrilled that they were successful, and annoyed they had to address this contemptible shit in the first place.

Plus: For every win some marginalized group has in stopping major retailers from selling dehumanizing, appropriative costumes, there are legions of online retailers who will still happily sell the same shit.

All of these are widely available for purchase online:

Afro Wigs
Dreadlocks Wigs
"Ghetto Fab" Wigs
Mexican Mustaches
Asian Mustaches
Indian Costumes
Eskimo Costumes
Sheik Costumes
Arab Costumes
Ninja Costumes
Geisha Costumes
Gypsy Costumes
Rabbi Costumes

Et cetera ad infinitum.

Naturally, these sorts of costumes are inevitably defended by the (usually white) people who wear them by arguing that there are cowboy costumes and German Beer Maid costumes and Scottish costumes and so forth and so on.

These arguments, of course, elide a couple of key points. Like, for example, that "cowboy" styling emerged from an occupation, not an ethnicity. (And there are not a few working ranchers who aren't thrilled with being treated like a costume, either.) And, as another example, that the way privilege works in a white supremacist culture creates a disparity in power between white people and people of color. The power differential between a privileged and a marginalized class means there is no equivalence in an "Indian costume" and a German bar maid costume. (Which is to say nothing of the misogyny inherent in the latter.)

When I attended Lauren Chief Elk's amazing workshop at the Forging Justice conference about the sexual objectification of Native women via appropriation, one of the things I asked her during the Q&A was whether the way in which white USians tend to flatten white ethnicity into one giant mishmash, giving each other tacit permission to appropriate each other's cultural heritages, contributes to the borrowing of, and provides the justification for, appropriation of Native dress and culture. See, as but one example, the whole: "The Irish don't get all bent out of shape about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish" during any discussion about team names like "Indians," "Redskins," "Blackhawks," etc. (Even though there are some Irish people who don't like that shit at all.)

And Lauren said, essentially, yeah. White people appropriating from one another sure as fuck doesn't help.

But of course we rarely call that out among each other, for fear of being ridiculed as "too sensitive," no matter how much, say, a Scottish person's teeth might grind seeing their family tartan being worn by some dipshit as a Halloween costume.


Appropriative costuming isn't just reserved for ethnicity. In about two and a half seconds of Googling, I found the following as examples of another contemptible trend in Halloween costuming—the fat woman as costume.

screen cap of an Amazon item page listing a 'Forum Tassel Twirling Tessie Humorous Costume' featuring an image of a man in a female fat suit that is sporting breast tassels and a string bikini bottom; the item notes it is a 'Gender-bending fun costume for Halloween, parade or prank'

screen cap of an Amazon item page listing an 'Adult Fat Suit Costume' featuring an image of a man in a female fat suit; the suit is beige and the color is listed as 'nude'

screen cap of an Amazon item page listing a 'Paper Magic Fat Suit Adult' featuring an image of a man in a female fat torso suit; he is wearing a gray female wig and glasses and grimacing

screen cap of an eBay listing for a 'Blow-up Fat Lady Halloween Costume,' featuring an image of a fat suit in purple leotard with gold tutu hanging on a closet door; the listing notes: 'In Excellent Condition. Used one year.'

Note that all of the models pictured are men. Also note the embedded transphobia ("Gender-bending fun costume for Halloween, parade or prank") and racism ("Color: Nude").

There are also some great ones that incorporate fat women sitting on things, like a female fat suit covered in a dress with a plush puppy stuck between the buttocks that comes with a sign reading "LOST DOG."

Ha ha! I guess it's time I come clean with you guys. That day I was in a panic because the dogs were lost...? They were actually up my fat butt.

I'm not sure I can convey to a thin white person whose body has never been appropriated as a Halloween costume what it feels like.

The thing is, Halloween costumes broadly fall into a few categories: Occupations (police officer, astronaut); celebrities; famous characters (superheroes, recognizable pop culture or literary icons); animals; and monsters. (Thin women are, of course, admonished to be the "sexy" versions of all of these, which is a whole other post. Or two. Or a million.) "Fat woman" doesn't neatly fit into any of these. Except, perhaps, "monster."

Which is pretty much all I need to say about how this shit feels.

In any case, my Halloween costume is going to be pretty easy this year. I'll just go as a Fat Woman. No costume required.

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