Row over ‘distasteful’ Halloween costumes

Spooktacular: The average American spent $83 on celebrating Halloween this year, says the NRF.

Acid attack survivor Katie Piper has slammed people who dress up with realistic cuts and burns for Halloween. ‘It’s distasteful and offensive’, she says. Do ‘bad taste’ costumes go too far?

‘I’ve had over 20 photos on my feed of make-up artists posting Halloween gore-overs,’ Katie Piper wrote on Instagram last week. ‘Some of us have these differences all year round. When did Halloween turn into people imitating accident victims?’

When indeed? Her voice was just one in a crowd of gory zombies, ghosts and other ghouls who took to the streets this weekend to celebrate Halloween. Tonight, on All Hallows’ Eve itself, they will walk the Earth once more in search of tricks (or, more likely, treats).

Dressing up has always played a key part in Halloween. When it was called ‘Samhain’, the ancient Celtic festival marked the end of the harvest season. It was believed that the boundary between the living and dead became blurred as the world moved towards the dark winter. Revellers would light bonfires and don costumes — usually animal heads and skins — to ward off evil spirits.

Eventually the festival was absorbed into Christianity. And when it made its way to America in the 19th century, it gradually became a secular kids’ holiday.

At first, parents were encouraged to avoid anything too ‘frightening’ or ‘grotesque’. But by the 1930s, spooky costumes were being mass-produced for trick-or-treating. This modern take on the night eventually made its way back to the rest of the Western world.

Dressing up is not just for kids — in 2013, over half of the $2.6bn spent on Halloween costumes in America was for adults. And each year brings new costume controversy. Halloween outfits are regularly accused of being too sexy, too scary, or offensive to other cultures.

Others are simply insensitive: earlier this month, there was outrage over a ‘Parisian Heist Robbery Victim’ costume which mocked Kim Kardashian West. Last year, ‘bad taste’ costumes included Caitlyn Jenner and Oscar Pistorius.

‘Pumpkins, witches, cats, bats, whatever,’ wrote Piper last week. But should we avoid costumes that might offend people?

Fright night

Yes, say some. Dressing up is a big part of Halloween, and there is nothing wrong with spooky outfits. But we should not ruin it for everyone else by deliberately making them uncomfortable. Racist or sexist costumes are not okay, and if Katie Piper feels upset by fake scars and disfigurements then we should listen to her.

Lighten up, respond others. If we banned every potentially offensive costume there would be nothing left to wear. We may not believe in evil spirits any more, but Halloween is still about confronting the things which scare us by bringing them out into the open. In an image-obsessed world, dressing up is one of the best ways of expressing ourselves — and for one night a year, anything goes. We shouldn’t lose that.

You Decide

  1. Are you dressing up for Halloween this year?
  2. Are some things simply too offensive to be worn as fancy dress costumes?


  1. Design your dream Halloween costume.
  2. Find out how one culture — either from the past, or in a country other than your own — celebrates Halloween. Produce a short presentation for the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“Lines are there to be crossed.”

What do you think?

Q & A

It’s only a costume!
That’s true — but Halloween costumes have become a big part of modern society. The costumes we wear at this time of year reflect our fears, anxieties, the pop culture we love and the way we interpret current affairs. Perhaps they are not meant to be taken seriously, but they are making a statement all the same — and therefore worth thinking about.
Is my costume offensive?
We have no idea, and we can guarantee that you will never please everyone. But if you are worried by this issue, try avoiding anything that relates to a cultural stereotype (such as Mexican sombreros or Japanese geishas) or a violent news story (such as terrorism or assault). Of course, it goes without saying that the most important thing is to have fun.

Word Watch

All Hallows’ Eve
October 31st, the day before All Saints’ Day.
In the Iron Age, Celts occupied much of Britain, Ireland and Northern France.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation.
Wearing the traditional clothes or accessories of people from another culture — such as Native Americans — is sometimes seen as ‘cultural appropriation’. Critics argue that it is wrong to trivialise others’ traditions and reinforce stereotypes in this way.
Kim Kardashian West
The reality TV and social media star was tied up and robbed at gunpoint in a luxury Parisian apartment earlier this month. She was ‘badly shaken but physically unharmed’ said her spokeswoman.
Caitlyn Jenner
The Olympic medalist (and Kardashian West’s former stepfather) came out as a transgender woman last year on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
Oscar Pistorius
The Paralympic athlete was jailed for shooting and killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after a lengthy and highly public murder trial in South Africa.


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