Face equality is especially important at Halloween

Halloween: Where We Stand

Introduction

  • Halloween is an important event enjoyed by millions of children and young people, and millions of adults, but one that can leave people with an unusual appearance feeling isolated and even targeted.
  • A test for any product, costume or design would be to ask: could the product, its packaging or description be seen as representing or mimicking a condition, mark or scar that a person could have?
  • Retailers have a responsibility to ensure that the products they sell do not offend, or objectify and mimic facial disfigurements, or incite such objectification and mimickry.
  • Schools and parents should use Halloween as an opportunity to teach about disfigurement, and make children aware that the presence of a scar, mark or condition, does not make a person ‘bad’ or someone to be afraid of.
  • Entertainment venues should ensure that fancy dress codes for their Halloween events make clear what is and is not acceptable.

Background

Changing Faces is the national charity that supports and represents people with conditions, marks or scars, that affect their appearance. Through our Face Equality campaign, we regularly challenge companies and agencies that use disfigurement to sell their products, or who represent disfigurement in an insensitive or exploitative manner.

In 2014, following action from Changing Faces, Tesco removed from sale a ‘Freddy Krueger’ Halloween costume which had the following description:

‘With his burned face and dishevelled appearance it is no surprise that a Freddy Elm Street costume makes a unique Halloween outfit idea. With this one kit you can obtain his complete signature look. … To re-create his facial disfigurement a soft EVA mask is included. Please note the mask included with the current stock differs from the one in the illustrated picture. ….With this eerie costume based on one of the most recognisable villains of all time you will become the nightmare on your street this Halloween.’

Changing Faces later complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about a campaign from telecoms company Powwownow, in which people were urged to ‘Avoid the Horror’ of their daily commute by using their conference call system. One iteration of the campaign depicted people in ‘horror’ masks that were reminiscent of compression masks worn by people in the treatment of facial burns.

The charity 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.

Our position on Halloween

Halloween is an important annual event, and one that excites and engages millions of children and young people – and many adults, too. It provides opportunities for socialisation, education, and above all else, a great deal of fun. Changing Faces encourages this, and does not want to see an end to Halloween, or genuine, good-natured ‘ghoulish’ costumes, events and themes.

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.

After time spent at home and at school, children spend more time in retail outlets than anywhere else. Around Halloween, retailers are understandably keen to capitalise on the market for ‘ghoulish’ products, but must do so responsibly by ensuring that the products they sell do not suggest that disfiguring conditions are ‘scary’ or unpleasant.

Online retailers such as eBay and Amazon, which allow traders to sell through their online platforms, should have guidelines and codes of practice in place which make clear which items are not acceptable and therefore should not be sold through their websites.

Schools often organise events and themed lessons around Halloween, and this sometimes includes mask-making and fancy dress. Teachers should use the opportunity to teach children about disfigurement, and the importance of not causing offence by suggesting that someone who has a facial scar is someone to be feared.

Venues and organisers of events aimed at adults should be careful not to offend and exclude people who have a disfigurement, many of whom can be left feeling both isolated and targeted at Halloween. Fancy dress codes and rules for events should make clear what is and is not acceptable: costumes and make-up that mimic real-life conditions, marks and scars are not.

Changing Faces recognises that some of its supporters strongly dislike Halloween, in common with a significant number of members of the public. This is often not because of any appearance-related issue, but rather a general feeling that the celebration is distasteful. We respect this view and whilst not ‘celebrating’ Halloween as an organisation, our work focuses on achieving a respect and understanding of face equality.

Viewpoint: What’s wrong with being politically correct at Halloween?

Seen something?

If you’ve seen something on sale that you think is offensive, or which mimics disfigurement, please report it to us. Contact our Press Office or call 0345 450 0275.