Halloween is upon us, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Costumes, candy, parties, decorations – I like the spooky season as much as the next gal. Still, for every good-natured fright, there are some real scares to account for every Halloween, many of which are exacerbated by social media. Let’s break down three of Halloween’s least fun frights for girls+ and advice on standing your ground when these issues roar in your direction.
Social media is infamous for how it encourages kids to grow up too fast. Of course, every generation has its round of “kids these days” caterwauling, but there’s evidence to back up that the Internet has changed childhood as we know it. Infamously, social media introduces adult anxieties much earlier in life, and thanks to brave whistleblowers like Frances Haugen, we know that Instagram correlates with negative perceptions of your own body.
Op-eds along these lines tend to fall into two categories; they either decry the over-sexualization of kids, or they decry the slut-shaming that follows. It can’t be denied that there are some stark differences in design for costumes for tweens compared to costumes designed for younger kids, and it also can’t be denied that shaming people for how they dress is a problem in its own right. Still, both of these frameworks take us back to the same problem, which has haunted women across the globe for centuries: we are taught to think of ourselves as physical bodies first and people with dignity second. As such, younger and younger girls+ strive for this artificial ideal and often get themselves hurt along the way.
This is why body neutrality is such an important and powerful ideal to strive for: it teaches people to value the whole person, body and spirit. Your body belongs to you, and if the media or the people in your life try to tell you otherwise, it may be time to reconsider what kind of role they should play in your life.
MEDIAGIRLS serves girls+ in middle school, along with their families. At this age, girls+ are old enough to make their own choices about how to express themselves through dress. It isn’t our place to judge what you want to wear, nor is it anyone else’s. Year after year, the fun of Halloween gets deflated by social pressures that tell us that we’re wearing too much, wearing too little, that our bodies are the “wrong” shape, and more in the endless parade of assertions that prioritize how others see us over how we see ourselves.
This is why body neutrality is such an important and powerful ideal: it teaches people to value the whole person, body and spirit. Your body belongs to you, and if the media or the people in your life try to tell you otherwise, it may be time to reconsider what kind of role they should play in your life. If it makes you feel good, that is all that matters.
There is, however, one specific realm of Halloween costuming that is always shameful, no matter what. That would be the issue of cultural appropriation in costuming, which rears its ugly head every October. We’ve all seen the Romani fortune-teller get-ups that hold fast to the G**** slur, the “Dia de Muertos” makeup, or the “buckskin and braids” costumes that reduce hundreds of real Native American cultures to dress-up games. This isn’t an occupation or a fictional character; these costumes draw on real human beings, and when the world already gives you limited representation, the joke stops being funny fast.
The problem of cultural appropriation extends past Halloween. Consider the incident when a white teacher performed a racist mock-Indigenous dance in front of a Native American student in a very ill-advised math lesson. This is why the fear-mongering over critical race theory is so risky in public education; it cuts non-white perspectives out of the educational system, and so people don’t internalize why behavior like this is harmful. Additionally, cultural appropriation re-centers whiteness in aesthetic spaces developed by and for other groups, disregarding what these signifiers actually mean for a once-a-year game with centuries-old baggage for the appropriated-from group.
#NotYourCostume has become a rallying point for the real racial and ethnic groups fighting to be seen as human beings instead of Halloween punchlines, especially in Native American communities. One of the greatest assets of the Internet is how it can connect us to people from all over the world, and we at MEDIAGIRLS implore you to use that to your advantage: learn from the people concealed by the costumes and afford them the dignity they deserve all year round.
Pressure to Perform
The fun of Halloween comes from its core principle: one day a year to be whatever you want to be, limited only by your imagination. But as we all know, our decisions and desires are part of a much bigger system with the perceptions of other people. According to survey data from the National Retail Foundation, 4 in 10 people feel compelled to spend money on Halloween just to have something to show on social media. That performance element, at once freeing and imaginative, is also rigid and a major stressor for people eager to be part of the group.
The seeming lack of “spirit” becomes a foundation for ostracization and exclusion, and all too often, Halloween peer pressure dips into bullying. Don’t misunderstand us; it’s called trick or treat for a reason, and getting together with friends on the edges of your comfort zone can be a lot of fun, especially at Halloween. But when the actions or aesthetics go beyond what you are comfortable with, you have a right to stand up for yourself. Plan ahead and practice saying “no” if you are called on to do something that you’d rather not do or compromise your values for.
The pressure to perform and be what others want you to be is a problem for girls+ year-round, especially in a social media context where “what others want from you” is the ultimate currency. But the ultimate arbiter of your social media life is you yourself. Social media is only as positive and healthy as the decisions you make on the platforms. Share honestly, and surround yourself with people who know and appreciate the real you. You have power here, and we at MEDIAGIRLS trust you to use it.
Halloween is a time to blur boundaries, embrace transgressions and contradictions, and have fun with friends in ways we never otherwise would. But even on a day as transformative as October 31, the same problems that haunt us year-round emerge and drain some of the fun from the experience. Hopefully, this article has given you some information on what to look out for, and how to stand your ground against these ghouls for a fun, safe, happy Halloween on social media and beyond.
Katherine Lynch is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies Communications and Media with a minor in Marketing. She loves to read, write, and learn about the world, passions she is eager to share with the MEDIAGIRLS community.