My five-year-old, who I had successfully shielded from Disney princesses until recently, finally figured out that “Let it go” (which she had been singing with her friends for a over a year), was from the movie “Frozen.” My daughter promptly demanded to see “Frozen” along with “Moana,” inspired by a Moana-themed birthday party favor (sunglasses). We saw both films within the month and, in early August, she declared that she wanted to be “Elsa” from “Frozen” this Halloween, and “Moana” the following Halloween.
I had some reservations regarding both costume choices…about cultural appropriation and the power/privilege carried by Whiteness, and about Whiteness [capitalized?] and standards of beauty…and so our conversations began:
“Elsa is an imaginary or made-up character. Moana is based on real history and a real group of people…if we are going to dress up a real person, 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.”
Hearing me push back against her Moana choice, my daughter re-asserted her desire to dress up as Moana (for Halloween 2018!). I closed this initial “Moana” conversation by telling her: “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.”
Since her 2017 Halloween choice was, in fact, Elsa, I returned to this costume choice and shared: “There is one thing I don’t like about the character of Elsa. 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”…that you have to have White skin, long, blonde hair, and blue eyes. And I don’t like that message. You are White, like Elsa—if you dressed up as a character like Moana, who has brown skin, you would never change your skin color. But I’m not sure I like the idea of you changing your hair color to dress up as Elsa—because I think Elsa’s character could also be a short, brown-haired character like you.”
Later, as my daughter continued her daily ballads/sing-alongs to “How far I’ll go” from Moana, I began doing some research of my own with regard to if/how my daughter, a White child, could dress up as Moana in a respectful way, in case her 2018 costume choice got bumped up.
I came up with three ideas:
First, I considered whether my daughter and I could find Polynesian artists that made traditional clothing and both learn about and support their work—but I wasn’t coming up with such artists…and, moreover, it still felt problematic to “dress up” as another culture, (even while trying to learn about and honor it). So much for idea #1.
My second idea, which I shared with my daughter, involved thinking about different qualities that Moana exemplifies, like bravery, strength, love of family, and caring for the environment, and using those qualities as inspiration to dress up as “Moana’s sister”.
My daughter was not impressed. “No! I want to be the real Moana!” she said with a scowl on her face.
.... “Anyway,” I added, “I don’t like the idea of dressing up using the same traditional clothing that someone from Moana’s culture may have worn because that feels like we are laughing at her culture by making it a costume. A child whose family is Polynesian could dress up using that type of traditional clothing but Moana’s culture is not our culture. If you want you could dress up as someone from one of your cultures, you could be a tango dancer from Argentina…(or as Che Guevara!). [Communist, executioner of political prisoners and homosexuals, fine: just don't wear a coconut brassiere] Otherwise, maybe you could be a modern-day Moana and dress up in the clothing you think Moana might wear today.”
After a few days of the same conversation, my daughter decided that she would, instead, dress up like Mickey Mouse for Halloween 2018.
“That is a great solution,” I told my daughter. “And with Mickey Mouse, we don’t have to worry about making fun of anyone or dressing up as a culture different from our own because Mickey Mouse is a pretend mouse! [Earth to Saschi: so is Moana, and so is Elsa and - hold on now, so are Halloween costumes!]
This brings be to my third “idea” on “how to dress up as Moana”…which was to tell my daughter she could not do so. In the end, my daughter came to this on her own.
Shouldn't someone be calling the child-abuse authorities on this woman?