I’ve been following the Karlie Kloss VS issue lately, and it’s making me think of a letter I wrote to a company called “Dreamgirl International” right before Halloween.
This is the time of year we begin to see the Halloween costumes come into stores, which is mostly limited for women to “Sexy Kitten/Witch/Teapot etc.”. How tedious. But I wrote this letter in response to a costume I had come across in Spirit Halloween. It was called “Reservation Royalty” and it was terribly offensive.
To describe the costume, it was a young woman in a “buckskin” dress and feathered headdress, which was basically a bastardized version of traditional Indigenous garb, including the war bonnet, with little left to the imagination. I don’t think I’ve lost my sense of humour here, but all costumes in which people dress up as another race can be considered racist. Simple.
Below you’ll find my letter to the company, to which I never received a response.
President and CEO
5548 Lindbergh Ln.
Bell, CA USA
Dear Mr. Scharff,
I am writing to you today to urge you to consider removing the “Reservation Royalty” costume from your collection. I came across this costume in Spirit Halloween yesterday, and I must tell you that it is terribly offensive.
All costumes in which people dress up as another race can be considered racist. Your “Pocahottie” costume or the “Rain Dance Diva” costume are equally offensive, however they do not carry the troublesome socioeconomic implications that “Reservation Royalty” does.
It is important to note that the sexualization and commodification of Indigenous women is just one way that they face structural inequality in North America. Your costumes obviously promote this sexualization and reinforce these misogynistic stereotypes. There are over 600 missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, and in the Cuidad Juarez area of New Mexico alone, it is estimated there are 5000 women who have been missing or murdered since 1993. These statistics are a result of racism and femicide in North America, where we simply do not seem to care about the safety of Indigenous women.
Both the “Pocahottie” and “Rain Dance Diva” costumes endorse this untrue and distasteful portrayal of Aboriginal women. However, as I said, the reference to Native American reservations is very disturbing in your “Reservation Royalty” costume. In both Canada and the United States, many reservations are unfortunately dealing with conditions similar to developing nations. Between 38% and 63% of Aboriginal people living on reservations in North America live below the poverty line. Social and health issues like suicide, addictions and diabetes plague communities on reserves. Housing is a constant issue with overcrowding, unsafe structures and substandard utilities being among the main issues. Illiteracy rates are nearly twice what we see in the general population and Aboriginal people are six times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Aboriginal peoples.
Understandably, you and your company may not have been aware of these facts. They are not widely reported and we do not often think about the implications something like a “fun costume” can have on our society. However, I hope that I have clearly illustrated the point to you that words have power. By discontinuing “Reservation Royalty” (and frankly, your entire Restless Wrangler/International Beauties collections), you are making a strong statement that racism and misogyny are not ideals you wish to promote. You have an excellent opportunity to become a leader in the costume industry here, and I urge you to take this opportunity.
I hope that today, you do not feel criticized, but rather enlightened about how you can help to end violence against women, racism and inequality. I very much look forward to receiving a response from you about your further course of action.
I never did hear about that course of action. However, how am I to hold this company responsible for a greater social issue? I’m glad to see Victoria’s Secret has apologized. I’m glad No Doubt pulled their latest video and apologized. Maybe next year, Dreamgirl International will consider pulling their various offensive costumes.