Dressing up as a British Asian woman has always come with its own particular set of issues. At school, I was lumped with Mulan during Disney Princess playground games, so often that I began to (misguidedly, perhaps) resent the film that I was told – unquestioningly – represented me. Later, the geeky gamer in me was drawn to emulating Chun-Li, from the arcade game Street Fighter, for Halloween, and to this day I’d love to be my childhood icon, Sailor Moon, for parties. But, instead, I’ve always steered clear in favour of dull, generic costumes – a cat, a creepy doll, Little Red Riding Hood (post-wolf, of course). Because, hey – no one, least me, wants to be stereotyped.
But, as I scrolled through my Instagram and Twitter feeds this week, I realised that this year is entirely – joyfully – different. Photo after photo showed girls all over the world dressing as (badass) new characters I’ve come to adore in 2018 – characters that looked like me. Eve, of Killing Eve, played by the inimitable Sandra Oh. The cast of Crazy Rich Asians. And many, many interpretations of Lara Jean Covey (played by Vietnamese-born American actor Lana Condor), the lead from this summer’s hit Netflix film, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.
I saw photos of people dressed as Jean handing out the all-important letters, her in THAT selfie scene and even a Lara Jean/Lara Croft crossover that no one knew we needed (we did). Jenny Han – author of the book on which the film is based – shared Halloween pics on a Twitter thread, saying that, after a dark weekend, the countless pictures she saw brought her “a little bit of sunlight.”
“There are very limited options or Asian girls on Halloween,” she said. “Like one year I went as Velma from Scooby-Doo, but people just asked me if I was a manga character.”
Ultimately, it’s not just about looking like the characters, but about feeling like you’re part a community; that you belong
And she’s right. Since those playground days, when my pals took on my favourite characters (Ariel and Princess Jasmine, since you ask), I’ve always envied the variety of characters my friends could emulate, and the ease with which they could do so. Sure, perhaps there are bigger battles to fight. And Halloween comes around just once per year. But, like Jenny Han, I can’t help but want to cheer the joy on the faces of everyone taking part in #LaraJeanHalloween. “Because of you, I discovered a new confidence,” one Lara Jean told Han and Condor on Twitter. Others tweeted snaps with the hashtag #RepresentationMatters.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t the only film to go through this Halloween phenomenon. Crazy Rich Asians has an influx of people dressing up as characters from the movie for the holiday season. People got out their sewing machines and made the dress that leading lady Constance Wu wore. Babies and families went as the whole cast. Hollywood actor Olivia Munn even dolled up as Awkwafina’s hilarious character Peik Lin. (Without any questionable, yellow-facing make-up, may I add – take note, it’s not that difficult.) And what it all points to is that, while we’ve still got some way to go, the landscape of our media and culture is changing. More and more people are able to relate to those they watch on screens, hear over our airwaves and read on our pages. And what better way to celebrate that, than dressing up as those they love and admire. This Halloween, I even plan to party as the bright and quick-witted Sandra Oh, while my bestie goes as the deadly and kickass Villanelle from Killing Eve. Two leading ladies that make up a multi-racial duo? Actually, not that scary.
Because, ultimately, it’s not just about looking like the characters, but about feeling like you’re part a community; that you belong. Halloween and fancy dress are a chance to be whoever you want to be. But isn’t it great, when that “whoever” is someone who’s like you.