By Sierra Bein
There was a time I enjoyed being called exotic.
Everyone who used the word had implied a positive meaning, and I was happy to know I wasn’t the same as everyone else. As a young girl thinking about what exotic looked like, I imagined pretty coloured girls with dark hair. They had plump lips and were usually a princess, or a queen of some sort.
I do have dark hair and coloured skin, handed down from my Indian-Caribbean mother. But I sure as shit wasn’t considered a princess.
Now that I’m grown up and in university, I’m real fucking sick of being called exotic. I no longer imagine a pretty princess, but a romanticised version of a person in someone else’s dreams. And if I’m being real, the romanticism of other cultures is usually inflicted on people who are in a subdominant position to another culture in the world, and not in a sexy way.
What makes me exotic? My eyes? My name? Being multicultural? Exotic is basically another word for calling someone different while at the same time sexualizing them and demeaning them. Think of what else is exotic: dancers, flowers, pets. People want exotic things to feel different.
This person on Quora asked, “What’s the most exotic thing you’ve ever done?” and someone answered saying they went parasailing. Parasailing? Off the coast of New Jersey? Just because something is new to you, doesn’t mean it’s new for everyone else. This also applies to other cultures: just because you’ve discovered it, doesn’t mean it’s exotic. Actually, it’s been around longer than you, which makes you the exotic one. Just ask Christopher Columbus.
This hatred of the E-word has become more seasonal. Hearing the way people speak of exoticness sucks the rest of the year, but Halloween is the one extra special time you get to see it physically in front of you.
This year, the student union at Brock University created a list of prohibited costumes. The list includes any costume that mocks suicide or rape, transgender people or outfits featuring a culture’s traditional clothing.
Even so, I’m sure plenty of y’all will still be walking around in all sorts of offensive costumes. One costume I found online is literally called “child Asian princess costume,” featuring a kid in a kimono with a fan in her hair. Dressing your children (or yourself) in mockery of another country’s clothing is not a costume, and sure as hell isn’t exotic either. It’s rude.
I also found a sexy “exotic India princess outfit for Jasmine.” If you’re going to culturally appropriate someone (please don’t), at least get your cultures right. Because “Princess Jasmine” from Disney is not slightly representative of what an Arab princess would have looked like. By extension, your costume—no matter how on point it might be to Disney— is another way to exoticise a culture.
My biggest problem with the exotic-India-Jasmine costume is that Jasmine wasn’t Indian. But my family IS Indian. So you, in that costume, aren’t whatever princess you’re trying to be. We eat the “exotic” food, with the nasty “exotic” smells, and experience the good and bad conequences of being considered “exotic.” Whether that comes in the form of a complement of how pretty we are, or a jab at how we resemble something closer to a monkey. That actually makes us the fucking Indian princesses, thank you very much.
So please, for my sanity’s sake, don’t take on an “exotic” costume this Halloween. Let’s just all be spooky, the way it was goddamn meant to be.