Why This Mom Refuses to Let Her Daughter Dress Up as Moana for Halloween


Finding your kids' Halloween costumes is a struggle. Striking the perfect balance between what they want and a costume that's weather, age, and cost appropriate is no easy feat. And for many moms, larger societal issues about race and cultural identity can't be ignored, especially on Halloween. Which is why one mom is refusing to let her daughter dress as Moana to go trick-or-treating.


In a recent post on the blog Raising Race Conscious Children, mom Sachi Feris explains how, like many 5-year-olds, her daughter narrowed this year's (and next year's, because kids love to plan ahead) Halloween costume picks down to two of her favorite Disney princesses: Elsa and Moana.

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The first thought I'd have if my daughter told me she wanted to be Moana for Halloween would be wondering how I'd convince her to wear a long-sleeve turtleneck under that halter top, because October nights in New England are no joke. Plus I'd want to know if she'd insist on performing "How Far I'll Go" at every house we went to, or if we could stick to the traditional "Trick or Treat."

But Feris had a much more thoughtful response. "Moana is based on real history and a real group of people," she told her daughter. "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." 

Feris's point about cultural appropriation is a valid one. We call out adults for dressing up like Native Americans or painting their faces to look like sugar skulls, so it's understandable that parents would want to teach their children the importance of respecting different cultures. On the other hand, it's hard to explain hundreds of years worth of systematic oppression to children when they're just interested in dressing up pretty and going to get candy. 

A quick Instagram hunt proves that there are plenty of moms out there who think wearing a Moana costume is all in good fun. 

moana halloween

moana halloween

To her credit, Feris tried to reach a compromise with her daughter on the Moana issue. She floated the idea of Disneybounding, i.e., dressing in the same colors as Moana. Her daughter wasn't having it. Then she suggested dressing up in the spirit of the character instead.

"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,'" she writes.

No dice. "No! I want to be the real Moana!" was her daughter's reply. 

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Feris tried again. "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," she told her daughter. "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!). Otherwise, maybe you could be a modern-day Moana and dress up in the clothing you think Moana might wear today."

I admire what Feris is trying to do. At the same time, I can't help but wonder if there's a way to let kids dress as characters whose heritage doesn't match their own without being offensive -- as long as your children aren't trying to mock anyone or change the color of their skin with makeup, isn't it all in good fun? As one mom wrote for the Spinoff, you can be culturally sensitive by not doing things like painting your face or skin, not drawing on tattoos or tribal symbols, and not using any sacred or traditional dress items as a part of a child's costume.

In the end, the debate over the Moana costume didn't matter anyway, as Feris's daughter ultimately decided to dress as Mickey Mouse for this year's candy run (typical kids, right?). But it does beg the question -- would you censor your kid's costume based on cultural sensitivity?

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