Health Bytes

Seemingly harmless holiday sparks controversy

Another Halloween has come and gone. It’s the one night (or perhaps, weekend for all you high-spirited partiers out there gunning for a good time) of the year when we are allowed to throw on fantastic costumes without judgment or disapproval. Tonight, we welcome it! On the tamer side of things, those of us who remember our youth picture Halloween as the one night of the year when candy flows freely from the houses of neighbors. Pillowcases, plastic Halloween pumpkins, and backpacks abound with bars of chocolate, gummies, lollipops, and candy. Each house, with a small gleaming light, reveals itself as the Willy Wonka factory that it really is on this bewitching night, awaiting the superheroes, princesses, pirates, and witches haunting the streets and sidewalks outside.

You would think such a seemingly benign holiday would not be wrought with controversy. Yet, dear reader, you would be much mistaken, for when there are pagan holidays and high fat and sugar content afoot, mischief and social debate are sure to arise. Earlier this October, CNN ran a story regarding a highly controversial “sexy anorexia” Halloween costume. Guess what she was called … Anna Rexia. Those designers at Dreamgirl could not have been more clever. The costume is a very revealing mini dress with a skeleton on the front and a ruler around the waist and comes with the online tagline, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” The costume sparked outrage due to its blatant dark humor with regard to a very serious eating disorder. Anorexia is both a physical and mental disorder in which people fear gaining weight to such an extreme level that they severely limit their food intake. Individuals suffering from the disease have a warped sense of their own body image and continue to lose weight. Anorexia (and the excessive weight loss that it is characterized by) have serious consequences on overall health. Without enough intake, the body is essentially starved of vital nutrients that are vital for life-sustaining processes, including the production of cells, hormones, and enzymes. Without hormones, such as estrogen, women of reproductive age will often suffer from amenorrhea (absence of menstrual period). Hormones are also critical for the development of bones; thus, women are also at a high risk of developing osteoporosis. The heart and kidneys can also be adversely affected, as the body essentially is running out of the fuel that it needs to survive. Both men and women can be affected by the disorder, and critics of Anna Rexia believe that the costume is tasteless and insensitive, equating it to dressing up as a cancer patient or a war veteran with missing limbs.

This Halloween has also brought attention to the younger demographic and the issue of gender identity when it comes to costume choice. In an article in The New York Times, Sarah Manley, a blogger, wrote about her five-year-old son’s decision to be Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween last year. This decision sparked a nationwide debate about cross-dressing, gender identity, and bullying. Some parents and readers criticized Manley’s choice to let her son be a female cartoon character for Halloween. Yet, the best part of all was that her son, at the ripe young age of five, could not possibly have realized the hullaballoo that his costume caused; he simply loved Scooby-Doo, had already dressed as Scooby-Doo in the past, and had the genetics to look like Fred in real-life. Daphne was the next best thing. It is important in our day to consider health as both a physical and mental entity. Bullying and gender roles play a major role in mental health, especially for children growing up in the harsh environment that youth and adolescence may present. If we judge on a holiday that, according to the first paragraph, should be free of judgment, how can we expect to be tolerant of the differences of those around us on a day-to-day basis? Mental health involves tolerance, acceptance, and the ability to allow people to make decisions for themselves without imposing our views upon them. Who are we to decide what is right and wrong for other people? Let us first decide how we want to run our own lives before trying to manipulate and attack the lives of others.

Thus, it seems that no matter where we turn, we can never escape controversy, not even on so spooky a night as Halloween. However, in a world where Cookie Monsters are eating carrots instead of cookies, this should not be a surprise. So, tonight, on this fantastical, magical, odd escape of a night, enjoy your treats, and let’s leave the controversy for another time. Happy Halloween!