Dressing Up As Moana Racism or Empowerment
If you follow the news or social media you may have seen the recent debate on Good Morning Britain where Radhika Sanghani argued that dressing a “white” child up as Disney’s Moana is offensive and in effect “cultural appropriation”, which is plain English translates as disrespecting a certain culture.
Well today I’d like to discuss this as I have very strong views and opinions on the matter and felt I needed to speak out about Moana and other Disney princesses and where I stand on this debate.
I’ll begin by saying that my daughter is from two cultures. In fact my daughter is half Polynesian and half British. Looking at my child you can see that she has a mixed heritage and the one thing that is for certain is my child loves Disney Princesses.
As a little girl Sylvia loved to dress up as Cinderella, Elsa and Sleeping Beauty. Sylvia has tanned skin. She has long brown curly hair and beautiful brown Polynesian eyes, yet she would happily dress in her favourite “white” Disney princess outfit and make believe that she was a real Disney Princess.
However as my daughter grew older she began saying things like “I don’t really look like Cinderella” and “I wish my hair was the same colour as Elsa”.
In fact the older my child became the more aware she became that she looked “different” to her classmates and the children playing on the street.
My daughter got to a point where she felt there was no Disney Princess that she really looked like and then Moana was announced.
At last! A Polynesian princess, a Disney warrior, a brave and strong character that Sylvia could relate to. A character that my daughter truly looked like.
With the arrival of Moana my daughter’s concerns about not fitting in began to dissipate. She loved the Movie and enjoyed a number of Moana toys.
Sylvia even went to Disneyland to meet Moana which was a really special moment, and something changed. My daughter became confident once more when it came to Disney characters.
She could relate to Moana, however she was also happy once more to dress up as Cinderella, Belle, Snow White and Ariel.
Moana gave my daughter the thing she had been missing and this translated into confidence and happiness in being any Disney Character once more.
Then we have a story in the news. A Blogger in America telling parents not to dress their child as Moana as it is “culturally insensitive”.
Arguments on social media followed and then the debate on Good Morning Britain. I watched with interest and I did not agree. I did not agree with Radhika Sanghani.
To call “Racism” when a white child dresses as Moana or to call “Racism when a coloured child dresses as Elsa is to me stupidity.
A child should be able to dress up as their favourite Disney Princess no matter what their ethnic background, culture or race.
We are not living in a world of segregation any more and Disney princesses were created with children in mind.
I would be deeply offended if I were to be told that my child “should not” dress as Elsa, or Ahna or Belle because her skin is not white enough or because it is not culturally appropriate.
Likewise a parent of a white child should not be made to feel bad for allowing their child to dress as Moana a Polynesian princess.
Now don’t get me wrong I am not saying everyone should go and buy a Moana costume to defy the public outcry but what I am saying is that dressing as Moana is “not culturally inappropriate”.
Whilst I look “white” on the outside I am of Polynesian heritage myself having Maori blood running through my veins. I lived in New Zealand for many years and lived in the Pacific Island of Tonga before my daughter was born.
Whilst Polynesian clothing does have a certain sacredness and “respect” associated with it, the Disney costume worn by Moana and available to children is simply that, “a costume”.
If one is seriously going to argue that white children should not dress as Moana and coloured children not dress as a white Disney princess then what happens to all the children who are mixed race?
Should we ban them from dressing in any Disney costumes incase they offend? There are no mixed race Disney princesses. Well not yet anyway! The truth of the matter is children are children. Children are innocent.
Children are not racist unless they have racist views impressed upon them.
Wouldn’t banning kids from being certain Disney Princesses or even arguing that it is not right, just lead to more awareness of our differences.
When I visited Disneyland in August this year I saw children of all races and colours dressed in their favourite Disney costumes. Their were white children queuing to see Moana wearing the Moana costume.
Their were brown children dressed as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Elsa waiting to meet their dream Princess.
At the end of the day let children be children. If a child wants to dress as Moana then let them. If a child wants to dress as Elsa or Snow White or a Star Wars Jedi, then let them.
Dressing in a Disney costume is not and should not be a cause for racism, or calls of cultural appropriation and it should not in my opinion stop children from having fun dressing up and being who they want to be.
Let kids be kids and to those who think otherwise, who think that dressing in “any” Disney costume is in some way or form not okay, then make that choice for yourself, for your own kids and don’t try to tell other parents or families what there child should or should not be wearing.
I love your take on this and you’re completely right. It does not at all make sense to tell one person they cannot dress as x because it’s racist and in the same breath say we are all equal. Your daughter is beautiful as Moana and Snow White and belle ❤️❤️❤️ I love the innocence of children- though they may begin to notice they are different as they grow, that difference is often more envied/wished to be emulated than shun- unless they are taught otherwise.
Exactly… it is almost encouraging racism! Children are innocent and yes unless taught to be racist, it should not effect childhood.
I agree 100%. Please people let kids be kids, the world would be a much better place If we were more like kids. They don’t think “I’m this color and Cinderella is that color”, this idea comes from people’s racism. Anyone should be what they want to be. Ps: you daughter is beautiful! xo
I agree whole heartedly and thanks for the lovely compliment.
i read about this earlier today and totally agree with you here… making that comment that dressing up as moana is racist is actually the wrong thing being done..
My daughters favourite Princess is Elena who is Hispanic, yet my daughter is white blonde so looks nothing like her. I agree, let kids dress as their heroines, there is nothing wrong with it and it helps them embrace other cultures too
Exactly! I agree, living in the UK, Moana helped my daughter to learn a little more about her own heritage! These movies do teach about other cultures and I think that is wonderful!
Lucy Dorrington says
What a brilliantly insightful post. It is so wonderful to read an antithesis to Radhika Sanghani’s argument in such a positive way. I had not considered the other side of the coin, but of course you are right, how could we possibly start segregating costumes by the colour of the child? Ridiculous and, indeed, offensive. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your lovely photos, you’ve certainly given another dimension to this debate.
Thanks Lucy. We are not searching for division when it comes to our kids and I do think Radhika Sanghani’s argument is flawed big time. People will have differing opinions but this is where I stand.
Honest Mum® (@HonestMum) says
I agree with you, by denying children the chance to dress up as characters, whatever the character or their background, creates division. Great post.
It sure does! 🙂 it is denying childhood fun and does create division!
Usually I try to stear clear of anyone who talks about racism because a whole lot of unnecessary drama comes with it. The color of a person’s skin doesn’t matter. If a “white” child loves Moana for who she is, then it’s totally fine if she dresses up like her.
I so agree with this! A kid can dress like ANY princess they want. Who cares about color? I think people make a big deal about nothing these days. Let kids be kids. My daughter proudly dressed like Tiana before, and she’s as pale as a snowflake.
I love what you said there. It’s important to let the child dress up as what they want. Your daughter looks so happy in the pictures. Cheers!!
I am with you. I think we can honor anyone in history. Where it gets culturally insensitive is when you don blackface or perpetuate the stereotypes that are insensitive.
Erinn Sluka says
I miss the good ole days where we just dressed and played as we pleased without judgement. I raise my son to ignore the judgements mainly because I don’t want him to be like that as an adult
I’m really glad you have written this piece. I thought of you as soon as I saw this news article. The person who made these statements has not celebrated diversity but instead sought to boost division. I’m glad your daughter is enjoying all the Disney princesses thanks in part to Moana.
Thanks. It is true. Division is not the goal but celebration of who we are and culture.
jenny at dapperhouse (@dapperhouse) says
Your daughter is so beautiful. I think kids should dress up as whatever they want to without having to worry about disrespecting someone.
My son was Superman one day for Halloween and last year my daughter was Moana. I wish someone would say something to me. Id’s dress up that’s what they do. They play make believe and imagination runs wild. People need to get over it.
Love this post, and I feel just the same as you. It’s utterly ridiculous to even contemplate that it’s racism if a child dresses as a Disney princess! My little girl is having a Moana themed birthday party, in a Moana dress, and I never for one second even thought she might offend someone!
Joanna @ Everyday Made Fresh says
I think that a child (or anyone for that matter) should dress up as who ever they want to dress up, no matter the color of the actual characters skin. I love that their are more and more Disney Princesses that are being created in all colors and walks of life. I love that it gives all girls someone to look up to.
I don’t like how we make (generally speaking) everything a color or gender issue. I have a daughter who decided to dress up as Mickey for Halloween. Kids like what they like, let them be kids. Whoever your daughter decides to dress up as, it is her right to do. She’s just a child having fun.
Ophelia T says
I love your post and the pictures. I think people are too sensitive now a days, and we should let kids be kids and have fun. Thanks for sharing.
Your daughter is so cute in all disney princess costumes! I think dressing up as Moana is cool!
Seriously, why does it matter what Disney princess a child wants to dress up as. You’re entirely right; if we banned certain kids from dressing as certain characters, it’d just make everyone feel even more separated!
It’s a conflicting argument for sure. I love Moana but I also know some Polynesian people (where Moana is from) who are upset. I’m more frustrated at the Maui costume because it has brown skin which can definitely be seen as racist. I think if the history of racism wasn’t a thing, we’d have a much more beautiful world of sharing each other’s culture.
Yes but my child is Polynesian too and we do not mind who wears the Moana costume.
Aishwarya Shenolikar says
To be totally honest, I haven’t watched any Disney princess movies, so I had to read up a bit. But, I’m with you on this. To expose children at a tender age to anything closely related to racism is so short-sighted & cruel even. They should be whoever they want to be! It was amazing of you to portray your thoughts on this! 🙂
Tamala Baldwin says
WOW this is a powerful position that you have taken and I have many thoughts that I am not going to get into at the moment. On one side, I agree that children should be able to wear whatever costume they want, but as a woman of color, I totally see how this costume can be seen as culturally insensitive and offensive. Perhaps, it’s okay when children wear it, but to see white women dressed as a Native is wrong to me…. the culture of aboriginal people across the world is not a costume. I mean, if a white woman wore African garments and said she was an African woman, heads would ROLL!
Also, we are most definitely living in a segregated world. Must be nice to think we are not.
Yes and we are all entitled to our opinions but this is not a debate about Women and adults dressing up in African clothing… the post is about children being able to wear their favourite Disney character costumes no matter where the Disney character is from. Sorry you feel the world is segregated. Yes there is racism clearly but surely kicking off about kids wearing disney costumes is only going to create more division!
I completely agree with you. This kind of attitude is teaching children racism. Let them dress up in what they want as they like. It’s the adults who have the problem. As long as it’s respectful there’s no problem to me.
A Busy Bees Life - Sheri says
I think we should let be kids and dress up as whoever they feel they identify with. I am black, my husband is white and our son is mixed. God help anyone who tells my son he has to dress one way or the other. The blogger who wrote that article is simply encouraging racial separation which is absolutely disgusting. So if I dressed up as Minnie Mouse would that be cultural appropriation against mice? Love this post. That blogger needs to kick rocks.
Thanks… I agree being a mother of a mixed race child. It is wrong and yes i agree with your point about Minnie!
I totally agree with, children doesn’t have anything to or intent to be racist or being culture inappropriate. Nor the parents wanted the same intention. Let children enjoy what is meant for them. To be honest, I would like to understand where the sentiments of that mentioned blogger is coming from.
It’s an interesting debate. My daughter doesn’t like Disney Princesses and will only ever wear her Batman costume. Goodness knows what will happen when she grows out of it! I think that we should let kids be exactly who they want to be – male or female, black or white – and not impose our own opinions on them.
I think its very tricky and theres a fine line between rascist and empowerment. I think you can dress up as the character without feeling the need to pay yourself as that persons cool. after all its just dressing up and not literally being that person. show appreciation without offending
sarah m says
Couldn’t agree more! Some great points you make, particularly when you mention mixed race children x
I totally agree with everything you’ve said here. Children are so innocent and should be able to dress up as their hero’s and favourite characters whatever their race. Cultural appropriation is a problem but it isn’t something children should have to worry about.
Jen Walker says
Children should definitely be able to dress as whatever character they are inspired by! My 4 year old really had his heart set on being Maui this past Halloween, and I was not about to tell him he couldn’t dress as him because he isn’t Polynesian!
Fashion Du Jour LDN says
Hear hear – I completely agree with you – children are children and as such should be able to dress in whatever costume they like – be it of another race or sex! I work a lot as a children’s entertainer, I dress as many princesses as well as “boy” characters and believe there is nothing racist/sexist or likewise. We should be allowed to wear what we want and enjoy it! Your daughter is beautiful inside and out and should be able to be whatever she wants!
Thanks for sharing!
Leigh at Fashion Du Jour LDN x
My goodness, this post is a breath of fresh freaking air!! Thank you so much!
I agree 110%! But I feel uncomfortable voicing my opinion on it most of the time because, well, I’m white. I never want anyone to feel like I’m trampling on them or their culture. But I have always thought that stance was incredibly divisive. I’d rather us all just not bring up race unless we’re celebrating each other and ourselves.
I understand. I think because my daughter is part Polynesian I am more comfortable speaking about this.
I really, really, loved this post. I think it’s so important to talk and discuss this issue as I think there are still many things for us as a society and a human race that we have understand and embrace. There is a fine line between cultural appropriation / racism / and just plain over reacting. However because of this, it is also a delicate situation. I think it’s totally fair for people to feel offended by something if it makes them uncomfortable, but I also don’t think it’s fair to say that something is racist or inappropriate if it is done with respect. And as you highlight your daughter and your family are of Polynesian descent so are of similar culture to the Moana character. And at the end of the day, it’s a child who has found a role model. Regardless of skin colour, a child should be allowed to dress as who they want to. I think its amazing that Disney has characters of other races (Tiana, Moana as well as originals like Jasmine, Pocahontas etc). And of course, she looks beautiful dressed up as the Disney princesses!
totally agree with you… she is a child and she has all the rights to choose whose she wants to be :)…
Angela, thank you for wonderful article.
Isn’t Halloween about dressing up as something you aren’t?
Isn’t imitation the greatest flattery? Children & adults alike love Disney’s cartoons. They teach morals & cultures.
I am a brunette so I guess dressing as a blonde princess is also racist?
No one has ever stopped another from dressing as their hero or heroine (dies this mean boys can’t dress as girls & vice versa? Isn’t that “Intolerant”? Guess Disney should quit creating cartoons….
This “White Priveledge” has been created by those who see themselves as less than. No one is less than another. No one has the right to make you feel less than. But if you do it to yourself, That’s on you. Don’t force your hate on others. (This is to the haters, not you Angela..)
It appears that the angry & racists see racism in everything.
Thanks again . blessings over you.