Free To Be You and Me

Published November 02, 2015

One Halloween, I dressed up as Cinderella, a different time- a nurse, but my all-time favorite costume was an old lady. I wore my hair pulled back into a bun sprinkled with baby powder. I wore a crochet shawl and walked hunched over a cane. Was that offensive? Was that ageism?

According to some, dressing in a costume that is other than what you are should be avoided.

But isn’t that what dress up is about? Isn’t it about trying on something different than who or what you are?

Some schools are advising their students against borrowing from other cultures. See- The New York Times article: Costume Correctness on Campus: Free to Be You, But Not Me.

The message: It is dangerous to pretend.


Since when?

Was it sexism when, at 18, I dressed as a black cat wearing only a black leotard and stockings, high heels and a tail? I looked more like a Playboy Bunny.

But Halloween was the time I got to pretend or play I was something I wasn’t. And it wasn’t pejorative or prejudice or mockery. It was curiosity.

I have a male friend who, one Halloween dressed as a mutual female friend. He wore a long blonde wig.

But this year, according to the above-mentioned article, it’s a no-no to dress in drag or as Caitlyn Jenner.

The associate editor of Lenny, an online newsletter, wrote in an email, “Dressing up as Pocahontas (or sexy Pocahontas, let’s get real), is offensive because it takes the whitewashed version of a whole group of people that have been victimized and abused in their own land,” and presents it as “ a thing one can try for a night.”

Yes! That’s the point!



That’s why we dress up, starting in pre-school. Play is essential for children. (See- Let the Children Play.)

But it is also important for adults.

Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play believes after decades of research, that there are dangerous long-term consequences of play deprivation. And he believes play is essential for all people, at all ages, at all times.

Dressing up is a form of play (role play) that requires imagination, fosters learning and may, actually, increase empathy.

When you dress up you are stepping into someone else’s shoes, or trying to, even if for just for one night.

Of course there are people who use Halloween as an excuse to ridicule and that’s never acceptable except for the time when someone I know dressed up as Sarah Palin.

That was mockery. (And totally acceptable.)

But is it ridicule when a young child, in an elite private school, wears a toolbelt and dresses up as a carpernter?

Where do we draw the line?

Nobody wants to be accused of ageism, sexism, racism or being insensitive.

So let’s use our heads.

Intent matters.

When my daughter (who is white) wanted to be Scary Spice (who is not), it was all based on awe and admiration.

She didn’t want to be Baby Spice.

Should she not have been allowed to explore the Scary Spice persona?

In my mind, it would’ve been discriminatory, and just plain wrong, to tell her she had to be one of the white spice girls.

As children try out different roles (karate kid, superhero, celebrity, carpenter, doctor, nurse, chef, mother) they are solidifying their own identity.

Maybe adults are too.

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