This year, for Halloween, I’m going as Moana. Actually, that’s not true. But I suddenly wish it were true after reading an article in Cosmopolitan this week called “Maybe Don’t Dress Your Kid Up As Moana This Halloween?” The idea is that a white person (or a person of any race other than Polynesian) cannot dress as Moana for Halloween because that would constitute cultural appropriation.
— Cosmopolitan (@Cosmopolitan) October 23, 2017
Basically, as the article in Cosmopolitan makes very clear, if you’re going to dress up as a Disney princess, you’re only allowed to dress as one who’s the same race you are. “White girls have plenty of princesses to choose from,” the article states. Instead they should “realize that they’re awash in privileges that the real Moanas and Tianas of the world will likely never see.”
This actually makes me want to throw up a little. And it isn’t because I think it’s just a Halloween costume and everyone should just calm down (even though I actually do think that). It’s because of what it means for the “real Moanas and Tianas of the world” to tell little white girls that they can’t dress as these princesses.
See, if all little girls (black, white, Asian, etc.) can dress as the white princesses, but only black little girls can dress as Tiana, and only Polynesian little girls can dress as Moana, what is that saying about people of color? In essence, we’re telling little girls that Moana and Tiana (and Jasmine, and Sophia the first, and Elena of Avalor, and all the other non-white princesses) are only for non-white people.
As in, these princesses can drink from this water fountain, and these princesses can drink from that one. Those princesses are only for little girls with brown skin. We don’t associate with them. So don’t idolize and emulate those princesses. Stick to your own kind.
Moana and Tiana are strong, brave, daring young women. They follow their dreams, forge their own paths, stay true to their hearts. It isn’t the color of their skin that makes them heroines, it’s the content of their characters. That’s the point. That’s why Disney has begun to create princesses of different races. Because a princess is a princess no matter what color her skin is. If a white little girl can’t look up to Moana and say, “I want to be just like her!” then we’re perpetuating the idea that princesses of color are somehow inferior.
Cosmopolitan wants us to believe that it’s simply wearing the costume they object to, not playing with the toys or watching the movies. But dressing up as the characters you admire is part of being a kid. For a child at play, putting on the costume is the same as putting on the characteristics of the person that child is pretending to be. Like strapping on your plastic sword and shield and pretending to be a knight. Or saddling up your trusty stuffed animal and donning your cowboy hat to bring in the herd.
Saying that white girls can’t dress as Moana implies that Moana’s most important characteristic is her Polynesian-ness. That Tiana is nothing more than her blackness. Sure, if a little girl wanted to dress as “a black person” for Halloween that might be a problem. If she wanted to paint herself brown in order to be Moana, that could be a problem too. But dressing as Moana isn’t about wanting to be Polynesian. It’s about wanting to be a brave and true-hearted girl who follows her dreams.
According to Cosmopolitan,“Moana is a really special character to young girls of Polynesian descent who have never seen a Disney Princess who looks like them, just like how Tiana from The Princess and the Frog likely resonated with young Black women who had waited decades to see themselves represented.” If this is true, then isn’t it time that girls of Polynesian descent and young black women saw how popular these characters who look like them really are?
Moana is more than the color of her skin. Any little girl could tell you that. Letting your daughter dress as Moana tells the world that Moana (and Tiana, and anyone else) is a princess worthy of a little girl’s heart. Cosmopolitan says a white girl who dresses as Moana is “racist.” But I don’t know, Cosmo, I think you should look in the mirror.