The Cultural Kinking of Halloween

This story was shared by a Project Ava Storyteller. Learn more about the Storyteller Program.


Halloween is a great holiday. It is a night of fear and fright and debauchery. It is a night of too much candy and too many screams over fake bones, fake blood, and fake spiders. It’s meant for gentle fun. Nobody intends to be racist for Halloween. At least, most people don’t.

Now, let me ask you, how on earth, in the year 2016, are people still internalizing these stereotypes? Yet, somehow, I still manage to find myself in a variety of situations where these ideas rear their ugly head and punch me in the face.

“So, are you supposed to be like, a sexy Asian schoolgirl or something? Because I dig it.”

I was a freshman in college dressed up as a nerd at a Halloween party. A drunk man leaned against the wall, towering over me, his beer breath washing over my face.

The sexualization of Asian women is not a new thing. The fetishization of the Orient started as early as European colonialism into Asia. It is old, it is unoriginal, and it is boring. And it still exists today. How? Because these ideas are persistently reinforced within our daily lives.

Let me just a list a few examples:

  • Fox News (I’m looking at you, Watters.)
  • Movies (Rush Hour 2, I love you but you’re oh-so-problematic.)


Between the short kimonos and the sheer cherry blossom skirt designs, costume companies still love to capitalize on the exoticism of Asian cultures. Particularly by sexualizing Asian women. Google “Asian costumes” and you’ll find a plethora of ideas. From “Asian Princess” to “Geisha” to “China Doll” to “Sensei Master” (complete with the white mustache and hair!)


It was a festival. My friends and I were heading towards the misters to cool off. A frat man wearing his letters stopped us along the way to squint his eyes at me.

What’s wrong with this? In creating costumes, companies are inherently creating something “different” and “other” than the normal. While you may be able to don the costume for a night of fun, the power to take off the costume the next day with no consequences whatsoever is a problem. By using the day to excuse dressing up as a stereotype, many people expose their inherent derogatory beliefs about an entire group of people. And through mocking an entire group of people, the costume-wearers belittle an entire history of struggle and existence. The ability to wear the costume without understanding to the fullest extent the impacts of living as part of that culture only reaffirms and highlights the privilege you have in your ability to wear it and find it funny.

So, to my white female friends, I understand that the satin kimonos make you feel sexy. And I agree that Harajuku Girls embody a girlish-cute femininity that may completely match your aesthetic. And while we can agree on our collective gendered experiences as women, it does not give you the right to take this intersectional experience and don it as a costume. These costumes, again, become something you can wear for one night and take off the next. They become objectified experiences that are lived through the colored bodies of Asian American women. Therefore, they do not exist to serve your purpose of being an “exotic beauty” or “a sexy schoolgirl” for a night; to vicariously live the supposed love life of Asian women. To dress up in costumes pulled from these cultures is to identify with the legacies of that oppression. And I’m not sure that you do.

“Wait, but I thought you were only into Asian guys.”

It was lunchtime at a cafe. I was ogling at a white barista behind the counter. My white girlfriend sat across from me sipping her green tea latte with a confused look on her face.

As I mentioned before, it’s more than just the Halloween costumes. It is the perpetuation of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. These, woven with sexualization, naturalizes the dangerous notion of the “sexy Asian woman”. It is reinforced everywhere, from anime cosplayers to schoolgirl outfits to Asian masseuses fantasies. And it can be perpetrated by anyone and everyone, not just university frat houses.

This sexualization then feeds into harassment. It provides the justification for others (especially cis-gendered heterosexual white men) to demoralize, demean, and disrespect Asian women. It’s a sad fact, but it’s no surprise that harassment is alive and well. Racially targeted ones are especially thriving. Ask any Asian/ Asian American woman and without a doubt, she can regale you with a story about harassment. These harassments aren’t just “for fun” or just “jokes,” as men like to claim. They instill a sense of demoralization, of humiliation, and even of fear, within women.

“Me love you long time.”

It was a Friday night. My friends and I were celebrating a birthday. We were approached by drunk men swinging plastic cups, foam sloshing out and splattering the ground.

So, for everyone still asserting their “rights” to wear whatever they so please on Halloween. For the “you’re not the boss of me”-ers and “you can’t tell me what to do”-ers, here are the things you need to know this Halloween:

  • A culture is not a costume.
  • Sexualization of an entire race is not funny or even sexy.
  • If you really want to be sexy, find confidence in yourself instead of a short kimono. Nor will it get you any kudos with Asian men.
  • While you can take off the costume and still be seen as American, your costume perpetuates our otherness.
  • Don’t assume it’s going to be fine. If you’re questioning something, ask someone about it. Preferably from that culture.

Because have you ever been urged to say where you’re “really” from? Have you felt the confusion or the humiliation of not being from here? I don’t think so. It does not matter how many Asians friends you have; how Asian your neighborhood is; how much you love sushi; or how cute you think the bastardization of our traditional garbs is. As sought-after as people like to think Asian women are, we are still constantly harassed and discriminated against. You haven’t experienced the daily racism that still happens against Asians/Asian Americans and you wearing us as costumes show everyone that.

“Go back to China.”

A man muttered this as I walked past him. It was broad daylight. I was on my way to go grocery shopping. 

Ava Love,


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