It’s that time of year again when shops and households are getting ready for a night of spooky fun; I’m talking about Halloween of course. My daughters are looking forward to going trick-or-treating with their friends next week and who am I to be a spoilsport?
While they’re excited I am feeling a little uncomfortable about the prospect of wandering the neighbourhood amongst scores of people in fancy dress costume. I used to think this was because I didn’t grow up with the Halloween tradition; back in the 70s and 80s Halloween hadn’t yet reached Sweden and by the time it had caught on I’d left the country.
But there’s one thing not to be that interested in Halloween, another to feel actively uncomfortable with it. It’s not the ghosts that scare me, nor the zombies; it’s the use of facial disfigurement to represent horror that I take issue with.
As Steve Taylor, PR and Communications Manager at Changing Faces wrote in an opinion piece last year, “Halloween’s origins aren’t rooted in horror films or exposed bone and muscle but in ghostly apparitions. Whether or not one believes in ghosts, few would object to ghostly and ghoulish costumes and themes,” but costumes and makeup that mimic disfigurement of different kinds, including scars and burns, are both offensive and hurtful to people with actual disfigurements.
Halloween costumes that recreate real disfigurements are not harmless fun as some would have it, but play into the age-old stereotype, perpetuated by the film industry, that facial disfigurement equals bad and evil. Take Bond villains for example; 17 out of 24 Bond films feature a villain with a disfigurement or impairment.
When Disney released a remake of The Lone Ranger in 2013, the movie’s promotional material described the film’s lead villain, Butch Cassidy, as “a ruthless outlaw whose terribly scarred face is a perfect reflection of the bottomless pit that passes for his soul.” There have been several portrayals of Cassidy on the screen, but Disney is the first studio to present him as facially disfigured with David Fichtner, the actor playing Cassidy, having makeup and prosthetics applied to get his ‘evil’ look: a scarred upper lip that mimics a cleft lip.
While volunteering for Changing Faces, I was asked to look into what kind of Halloween costumes were adversities on supermarket websites and fancy dress sites. Unsurprisingly, I found endless zombie outfits, mummies, Freddy Krueger and Joker masks on sale, one gorier than the other.
But the culmination of the lazy, ignorant and offensive disfigurement = evil equation was the plethora of ‘serial killer’ masks. Who knew that a serial killer could be easily recognised by his (or her) severely burned, scarred or otherwise disfigured face?
And if you don’t want to splash out on an overpriced Halloween outfit, you could make it easy for yourself by purchasing a few fake scar tattoos to make yourself look scary. As someone whose body and face feature many scars, all of which I love dearly, I feel especially troubled by the media and the entertainment business’s perpetuation of the myth that scars equal something ugly, evil and scary.
So when you and your family get ready for Halloween this year, please be mindful of the thousands of people out there who walk around with real and permanent scars. There’s nothing evil about them and if you got to know them a little you’d soon discover that they are just as beautiful as you are.
Extracts from Changing Faces’ guidelines on Halloween costumes:
[Changing Faces] does not object to Halloween or, for example, to ‘gory’ fancy dress themes, but rather to the exploitation of disfigurements and the suggestion that, inter alia, scars, marks and conditions make a person ‘scary’ or unpleasant.
Identifying whether or not a product, costume or design is offensive is simple: could the product, its packaging or description be seen as representing or mimicking a condition, mark or scar that a person could have? If the answer is ‘yes’, or ‘possibly’, then the product, costume or design should not be used or made available.
Example 1: Facial Zip
Some Halloween make-up includes a ‘zip’ fastening that might be worn across the forehead or cheek. This does not represent a condition, mark or scar that a person could have, and so is not offensive and Changing Faces would not object.
Example 2: Scar
Temporary tattoos sold at Halloween often include scars, sometimes of a significant length, that people apply to their faces. This does represent a scar that a person could have, and so is offensive and Changing Faces would object.
Example 3: Zombie costume
A Zombie costume includes a mask that shows exposed muscle and bone structure, accompanied by a description that says the mask’s ‘horrific burns and mangled appearance will ensure all your friends are terrified’. The costume does not represent a condition, mark or scar that a person could have and so would not be regarded as offensive, but the description does make pejorative remarks about burns, and so Changing Faces would object.