My Outlook

Dressing up can lead to an unexpected dressing-down

I was four years old when my sister was born. The story is told that when my dad took me to the hospital, we stood in the parking lot and my mom held the new baby up to the window so I could see her. I was far more excited about something else. My dad had taken me shopping for new rubber boots and I couldn't wait to show mom. So while she held up this precious new life, I was frantically waving my new pink boots.

There is another story that happened at that time. Just before my sister's arrival, I was taken to the home of family friends. There were six kids in the family and they lived on an acreage with great places to play, including a big teepee that sat near a fire pit and a treehouse we loved to climb. We came up with all kinds of games. Sometimes we even dressed up, like we did one day in May, when our play was interrupted. I remember the moment very clearly as I was told my dad was on the phone and I heard the news about my new sister. I can even tell you what I was wearing at that moment because…I was dressed as an Indian. As children we were playing cowboys and Indians.

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Our 'costumes' were little more than scraps of this and that, including a crudely crafted headdress, created out of the imagination of children whose exposure to the culture likely came from little more than ill-conceived cartoons.

It's Hallowe'en, and somehow a day that was intended to be Hallows' Eve prior to the marking of All Saints Day, has become the year's largest costume party—and a minefield for those trying to navigate what is appropriate get-up.

The list is long of those who have gotten into trouble publically and on the job after pictures appeared of them dressed up in costumes that have been deemed offensive. Several retailers have found themselves on the wrong side of the story and have pulled costumes from their shelves after negative public response.

But help is close by. Hallowe'en revelers can access guides to help them through the process. So what will they find on the list of costumes not be worn? A refugee, an immigrant, Holocaust victim, terrorist, mentally ill individual, or someone with an eating disorder. Do we really have to be told this? Apparently so. Some retailers actually offer these options.

Then there is the career/personality section that is off limits. No border patrol or immigration officials. No Donald Trump. No priests. No zombies of recently deceased celebrities (I'm not making this stuff up). No Caitlyn Jenner, no O.J. Simpson, no child brides, no Pocahontas no creepy clowns, and none that sexualize nurses, police officers or…believe it or not, Ronald McDonald. (yes, that one, too, is available for purchase).

I'll be honest, Hallowe'en is just not my thing, apart from any leftover candy. But for those that enjoy dressing up I can only wonder at how fine the line has become between what is fun and what is offensive, and how many times it has been crossed in the past. I crossed it—and not just as a 4-year old playing a game. Once I was costumed as a hobo. Today that's unacceptable. I get that. Another year I wore a poncho and sombrero. Objectionable.

As a mom I have apparently made some egregious mistakes. Some years my daughters were princesses. Wrong. This reinforces regressive gender stereotypes. They were a ladybug, lion, dinosaur and a cat. Horrors. This anthropomorphizes animals. Or demeans them, depending on who it is that objects.

The problem for me is that the line seems to keep changing, and how costume ideas might be interpreted by someone, somewhere, is so unpredictable. This is what makes dressing up such a series of potential pitfalls.

For those who enjoy the day, let common sense prevail, and let costumes be fun. Or just imagine if people saved themselves the potential damage to their reputation and jobs, and re-directed some of their efforts. The $9.1 billion being spent could be put toward lifting issues up and not tearing people down. That's my outlook.

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