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Why It's Not OK to Dress Up as Someone With a Disability for Halloween

Teen Vogue logo Teen Vogue 10/15/2018 Brittney McNamara
a close up of a bicycle © Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

On Halloween, there are so many ways to dress up that aren't offensive — and yet, many seem to flock to costumes that appropriate, belittle, and demean. While we often talk about not culturally appropriating on Halloween, it's equally as important that we don't dress up as any kind of marginalized or stigmatized group — including people with health issues or disabled people. This spooky season, activist and YouTuber Annie Segarra is again reminding people on social media that #DisabilityIsNotaCostume and #DisabilityIsNotScary.

Annie sent a reminder that dressing up as someone who is disabled is not only offensive, it's damaging. She reiterated this message inhashtags she's used for past Halloweens.

Many on social media amplified Annie's message, showing why it's crucial that people don't use disability as a costume — including how it can increase stigma, frames disability as something to be feared, and can contribute to ableism.

Implying that disability is scary or should be frightful to people, others reminded, is offensive.

It's not just physical disability that isn't a costume — anything that mocks or makes light of a health condition, including mental illness, can also cause harm and increase stigma.

Jamison Monroe, Founder and CEO of Newport Academy, told Teen Vogue that costumes mimicking mental illness can perpetuate the already heightened stigma people who experience mental illness face.

“While most costumes are harmless acts of self-expression, there are many costumes that fuel inappropriate and even dangerous stereotypes about mental health. The stigma surrounding mental illness is perpetuated in our society through pop culture. Countless popular movies and television shows portray characters with mental health disorders as villains (think the Joker in The Dark Knight)," Monroe said. "These TV shows and movies then become popular costumes during Halloween. In addition, costumes sometimes depict gruesome scenarios related to self-harm, harming others, or mental health institutions (strait jackets, etc.). These costumes make individuals who struggle with mental health concerns feel more isolated and less understood — at a time when connection and understanding is what they need most. When people wear costumes that make light of these issues, it can be triggering for someone who struggles with mental health disorders. Additionally, for many people, the shame associated with these mental health disorders can even prevent them from seeking help.”

Fortunately, it's not hard to think up an awesome Halloween costume that doesn't offend or harm.

Teen Vogue reached out to Annie for comment regarding her hashtag and will update this story upon hearing back.

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