Mom of two Sachi Feris blogs for Raising Race Conscious Children, an online resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. And she recently shared the struggle she faced last month when, after watching both Frozen and Moana, her 5-year-old daughter decided she wanted to be the Queen of Arendelle for Halloween this year, and the strong-willed daughter of a Polynesian chief in 2018.
"I had some reservations regarding both costume choices," she explained in a recent post. "About cultural appropriation and the power/privilege carried by Whiteness. And about Whiteness and standards of beauty…and so our conversations began."
Feris then explained to her daughter that while Elsa is an imaginary character, Moana is based on real history and a real group of people.
"If we are going to dress up a real person," she told her, "We have to make sure we are doing it in a way that is respectful. Otherwise, it is like we are making fun of someone else's culture. We would have to do some research and figure out if there is a way to dress up as Moana that is respectful of her culture."
So simple... and yet so brilliant! Halloween can be a tricky time of year, so mad props to Feris for figuring out a way to tackle to heady topic of cultural appropriation!
In the end, however, figuring out a non-offensive way to dress up as Moana proved too difficult for the duo, and so Feris' daughter decided to scratch her plan and sub in Mickey Mouse for 2018. But this year, she's still determined to dress as Elsa, even though Feris fears it might affirm impossible standards of beauty.
"I feel like because Elsa is a White princess, and we see so many White princesses, her character sends the message that you have to be a certain way to be 'beautiful' or to be a 'princess'," she wrote. "That you have to have White skin, long, blonde hair, and blue eyes. And I don't like that message."
I don't like it either. But then again, sometimes a costume is just a costume. And while Feris' post has been praised on for starting an important conversation, there are some readers who disagree.
"I would have thought that Disney's desire to represent more diverse princesses is quite positive, as long as they do so respectfully," wrote one in the blog post's comment section. "So if my kids wanted to dress as Moana, I would have been proud of them for not only admiring people who look like we do."
"Children don't see Moana as anything different (fundamentally) from themselves," added another. "They see a young strong role model and that is what they want to (and should) emulate. By bringing cultural appropriation concerns into the conversation you are injecting the very thing you seek to eliminate."
And from a third: "My mom gave me this to read and I have to admit it makes me pretty confused. I've always thought of Halloween as a time when we get to be someone else. That's kind of the point. I'd like to be Rosa Parks—she's someone I really admire and I read her biography for school. I would never wear makeup to look like her—I know that's really rude. But I did want to wear a wig and pretend glasses because that's what you do on Halloween."
"And what about the other Disney princesses?" she continued. "Is the Scottish girl from Brave okay even if you aren't Scottish? Or Tiana? Pocahontas? I read in the paper about a little boy who dressed like Elsa for Halloween and his school supported him and I thought that was great! Someday, if I have a daughter and she wants to be Moana rather than one of the silly Disney Princesses, I will be super proud of her and I would help her make a costume."
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TBH, I probably would have too. After all, Feris' daughter isn't mocking these princesses and their cultures. She simply wants to emulate them because she thinks they are amazing. So while I think it's pretty incredible that this brave mom has opened up a discussion about what's appropriate and inappropriate, I do see the reasoning on both sides here. And at the end of the day, is it really so wrong to dress up as a kicka$$ character you admire from an insanely popular movie that you love?
Let us know your thought in the comments.