I'm worried my 8-year-old daughter's trick-or-treat costumes might be considered offensive. This year she wants to be a Native American for Halloween. Last year she was a girl from India (she wore a sari) and the year before that she was a girl from Japan (she wore a kimono). Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
Halloween costuming is a tricky business because almost anything you wear can be interpreted as offensive. A white sheet ghost costume is offensive to Klan members. A sexy cat costume is offensive to frumpy cats. A flapper is offensive to floppers. A zombie is offensive to anyone who remembers 2007 when zombies weren't a totally played out cliché.
Some of these offended parties are being oversensitive. (Don't allow your whole self-worth to be tied up in your appearance, frumpy cats.)
The debate about whether these types of costumes are appropriate always leads to a great deal of consternation around Halloween. Some people adopt the cause as a crusade, justifying blackface, tinfoil-grille costumes with excuses that run the gamut from "I'm celebrating my love of African American music" to "Halloween is a holiday about upside down make-believe and I can dress however I want because there are NO RULES and I DO WHAT I WANT."
Having said that, a good rule of thumb is if one of your first thoughts when planning a costume is, "Is there a way I can do this so that it won't be offensive?" the answer is almost certainly "No." And you shouldn't do it.
If race is the most defining aspect of your costume, that is a costume idea to skip. Going as Frida Kahlo is fine. Going as A Mexican is not.
The pursuit of Halloween happiness is not a worthy civil rights platform. There are so many other things to dress up as—why would you bother dressing up as something you know is such an emotionally charged topic, with the potential to upset people? It's like bringing a bucket of KFC to a vegetarian picnic. Not illegal, but why do it?
It's great that your daughter is interested in other cultures. Why not encourage her to explore this interest by talking to her about why some people whose families are Native American might be upset when someone whose family is not dresses up in a generic Native American costume?
And if the issue is that she just wants to wear feathers in her hair, have her go as a bird princess.
My fiancée has two daughters, one 8 and one 3. She's a really great mom and enjoys all the holidays, especially Halloween. Actually, she likes Halloween a little too much. Every year, she loves to dress up in costume, and it's kind of horrible. Nothing sexy or inappropriate, but she's not the most creative person in the world, and her costumes always come out looking like something a head injury patient would draw up in art therapy. She does it because she wants to have fun with her kids, but last year her eldest daughter was CLEARLY embarrassed in front of her friends by her mom's bizarre pig outfit, and the adults at the party were not so subtly snickering at her behind her back. It sounds overly harsh, but honestly these costumes make her look like a crazy homeless person. I've tried to broach the subject, but she's SO PROUD of her costumes that she takes it really personally. This year I want to sit her down and just tell her that she shouldn't dress up at all. Or that she should go with a store-bought outfit or let me help her or SOMETHING. Is that okay
Thatz not okay.
How exactly were you hoping the sit-down might go?
"Baby, I love you. I want to marry you. But you have no taste and aren't creative. People mock you behind your back. Your children are mortified by your very existence. You are the light of my life."
Right off the bat, the idea that these costumes embarrass your fiancée's daughter is irrelevant. I'm sure they do embarrass her. But that's because moms embarrass their daughters everyday simply by existing in the world, Mommmm stopppppp! Your future stepdaughter will probably get embarrassed when she has a curfew at age 15, but that doesn't mean you should eliminate it.
As this is a mom being embarrassing by wearing a silly costume on a day when lots of people wear silly costumes, rather than a mom being embarrassing by showing up hammered to Parent Teacher Night or sending her children to school dirty, I would let this one go from the kids' perspective.
(Anyway, she's wearing an embarrassing pig costume one day a year, and you're dressed up as "NOT MY DAD" 24/7. Don't try to put a kibosh on this harmless family tradition and say you're doing it for the kids.)
Now, onto the real playground bullies: the adults.
If she's going to a Halloween party where no one is dressing up, feel free to do your best to convince her to leave the homemade Raggedy Ann costume at home.
If it's a party where other people are going to be in costume, though, you really don't have a leg to stand on.
You say yourself that your main beef with your fiancée's costumes isn't that they are sexy or otherwise inappropriate, but that they are unimaginative and poorly executed. Just because you're dressed as a sexy cop does not make you the costume police. You can't hand out citations for trite realizations of holiday fun.
Since your fiancée is uncreative to the point that it bears mentioning and inexplicably proud of her work even though you, Tim Gunn, and Michael Kors all agree it's lackluster, I'm going to assume that playing around with costumes is not something your betrothed has regular experience with. You might even say it's a special treat. Something she enjoys doing even though it makes her eight year old roll her eyes. Why not let her have it?
You mention that you could be satisfied if she would just let you help put her costumes together, since you, Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King, can't take two steps into a pumpkin patch without creating a flawless, show-stopping, age-appropriate Halloween costume. That's great. But tell her you want to help because you think it might be fun to share in this tradition — not because she's so bad at it you feel obligated to intervene.
Above all, be sure that you know what you're getting into when you marry this woman. If her celebration of an easy holiday like Halloween isn't up to your standards, how's she going to handle a tricky one like Christmas or Secretaries' Day?