Saturday, October 31, 2015

Is Your Halloween Costume Offensive?

Before trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns and Disney’s Halloweentown trilogy*, our favourite fall
holiday was known by only its earliest defining element: the costumes.

Although the origins of Halloween date back over 2,000 years, the October 31 we know today is a fairly recent one. Before the twentieth century, the celebration’s dress code was restricted to the attire of supernatural or folkloric beings – worn strategically to ward off evil spirits. It wasn’t until the 1930s that Halloween costumes began being sold in stores and ensembles based on characters in mass media such as film, literature, and radio became available.
Since then, the off-the-rack options have expanded drastically, but at whose expense? Today, the most horrifying Halloween costumes range from culturally insensitive to downright racist.
Is your costume offensive? Answer yes to any of the following questions and it likely is. If your costume raises any of these red flags, you should probably (DEFINITELY) reconsider wearing it. 

Are you using makeup to alter your natural skin tone? 

If your Halloween look includes face paint this year, contemplate the role it plays in your costume. Are you coloring yourself blue to complete your avatar guise? Cool. Going green for a classic Wicked Witch of The West vibe? Oz the power to ya! Using a shade of foundation darker than your complexion to imitate Orange Is The New Black’s Crazy Eyes? No. Absolutely not. Applying cosmetics to mimic the skin color of a celebrity or character is never okay. Such uses of makeup (blackface, brownface, redface, yellow face, etc.) cannot be removed from their historical contexts.

Does the name of your costume include an ethnicity in its title? 

As preposterous as it sounds, at this time of year, establishments all over North America openly sell racist merchandise. Even right here on Ryerson’s campus, Spirit Halloween (the seasonal pop-up retail currently occupying the former Future Shop at 10 Dundas) carries culturally based costumes in abundance.

To list a few…

(Other problematic key words include: tribal, sombrero, senior, seniorita, Indian, warrior, tiki, ghetto and so on.)

Why are the aforementioned outfits insensitive? Put simply, they perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas, which ultimately lead to more aggressive racist attitudes. They are caricatures of a people group, not costumes.

Consider why almost every model of a “Native American” costume is pictured holding an axe, bow & arrow, spear or a sharp stick. From Warrior Chief to Poca Hottness, these costumes imply that indigenous people are both archaic savages and figments of the past.  Yet, we know that there are over 1.4 million Aboriginal people in Canada today. On a traditional native war bonnet and powwow dress, the placement of every feather and bead has sacred meaning – the inaccuracies in a $49.98 costume called Poca Hottness is anything but a sign of respect. Likewise, hyper-sexualized renditions of these custom garbs  (Huron Honey, Sexy Dream Catcher and Pow Wow Wow) take on new meaning when presented with the staggering statistic that in 2015 54% of Aboriginal women reported severe forms of family violence, including sexual assault versus 37% of non- Aboriginal women.

Are you wearing garments or accessories traditional to a culture? 

Putting on a sacred piece of apparel (that you don’t usually wear) – like a sari, hijab, bindi or keffiyeh – is unacceptable because those adornments you’re “borrowing” mean something entirely different to the culture you’re taking them from. There is a thin line between cultural appropriation and appreciation.

Cultural appropriation is the theft of icons, rituals and aesthetic standards from one culture by another – A.K.A. wearing culture as a costume or using it to make a fashion statement. In 2014, a Canadian music festival banned attendees from wearing feather headdresses out of respect for "the dignity of aboriginal people,” in fear of this very practice. Cultural appreciation is the act of honoring a culture by respecting their customs and traditions when within their community. This may include donning an ethnic garb to a marriage, holiday or other event you were invited to attend and displaying Aboriginal art purchased from an indigenous artist.

Are you dressed as an offensive historical figure?

Though this point should go without saying, I will say it anyway. Dressing up as someone notorious for his or her role in a historical event or time period that featured the death, torture, isolation or mistreatment of a people is totally uncool. Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and a member of the KKK are not good Halloween costumes and if you think they are, you’re kind of an asshole.

Does your costume mock others' real-life experiences?

On November 1, you will put your costume away, go back to being you, and naturally, we’ll all start thinking about Christmas – But will the implications of your getup continue to resonate? You can take the costume off, but the group you pretended to represent will continue to face the trends your costume worked to assert and reinforce.

By wearing an “Illegal Alien” costume, you are belittling the struggles of refugees and anyone escaping war, persecution or famine to pursue a better, safer life abroad – experiences like that of the nearly 12 million Syrians (half of which are children) who were forced to flee their homes earlier this year. In the same way, a “Arab terrorist” costume adds to pre-existing culture of Islamophobia, where the racial profiling of a 14-year-old Muslim boy led to the high school freshman being arrested for building a clock.

On Halloween, you can choose to be anyone you want and hopefully, whoever that may be, is decent enough to make a thoughtful choice. What you become on that night is a direct reflection of who you are every other day of the year.

If this reading has squashed your costume plans - you're welcome. You're better off just being a Minion or something.

*I am fully aware that there are technically four films in the Halloweentown series, but the last one doesn’t count and we all know why.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Red Carpet Debut | TIFF 2015

I hit the TIFF 2015 red carpet for RU Student Life to chat with the stars (Nina Dobrev, Anna Kendrick, Taissa Farmiga + more!) about school,  Drake, emojis and peanut butter. 

Watch now! 


Saturday, October 17, 2015

6 Things You Must Know Before Moving To 'The Six'


It’s very simple. Stay to the right if you want to stand on the step and be escalated to the upper level and leave the left side clear for people who want to walk (or run!) up the escalator. These formalities may not seem relevant to those who come from towns with escalator-less local malls, but, in this city, nothing stings more than a sharp “excuse me” from a Torontonian with somewhere to be. Don’t be a human speed bump. Someday, you too will be in a hurry and roaring up a moving staircase will make complete sense. Trust me.


In my hometown, if someone initiates a conversation, you would be rude not to stop and listen. Especially because there is a good chance the man trying to sell you a gym membership outside of the grocery store on Main Street went to high school with your mailman, who is married to your cousin, who will tell your aunt, who will call your mom and let her know that you were mean to John Smith from LA Fitness. Needless to say, Toronto differs from a small community.

If you’re anything like myself and you have a perpetual fear of getting in trouble/hurting people’s feelings, (A.K.A. being sent to the principal’s office of life,) the art of “no” can be quite difficult to master. “Want a flyer?” “Do you have time to talk about ____?” “Are you interested in ____?” “Would you like to take a brief survey about ____?” … Unless, of course, you actually want to, you are allowed to say no. The truth of the matter is, in Toronto, if you stop for every single person who tries to start a conversation with you en route, you will likely not make it to your destination on time. Now, I’m not saying you should be disrespectful to people – a simple “No, thanks!” or “Sorry, I’m in a rush.” will suffice – but, don’t feel obligated to hear them out every single time.


As a Ryerson student living in the city, you can wake up every morning feeling like a super star and strut down the street like you’re headed to the set of a movie… because you just might be. Toronto is Canada’s leading centre for music, theatre, film and television production and is only behind Los Angeles and Manhattan when it comes to motion picture shoots. Many of these star-studded affairs happen right in Ryerson's back yard!

For example, Toronto International Film Festival events are hosted at the Ryerson Theatre during the first week of school. Who knows? You just might bump into Wayne Gretzky strolling through Kerr Hall! If you want to see more shots of A-listers with Ryerson students during last year’s festival, we captured it all using #RUFamous. Take a look, stay tuned and be sure to tag us in any celeb selfies you score during TIFF 2015, happening September 10-20. 

Likewise, you may unknowingly stumble onto the set of a Hollywood blockbuster or be an extra in an episode of your favourite series in between classes.


If you didn’t know already, Torontonians walk more than they ride. (By the end of my first semester, I had forgotten what it was like to drive in a car.) Rain, shine or severe blizzard conditions, the city doesn’t stop and you have no choice but to get to where you need to be. While there is no way to hide from torrential downpour or snowfall, you can avoid the weather for at least a little while on your commute by taking above or under ground tunnels and bridges. Need to get from RCC to the SLC without getting your hair wet? There’s a path for that!

Side note: Say goodbye to snow-days. If you’re used to frequent school closures during the winter, honey, you’ve got a big storm comin’ – and you will still be expected to trudge through it to attend school and/or work.


Speaking of Torontonian transportation, always account for more travel time then you think you’ll need. “There was a delay on the TTC,” is the most commonly heard excuse in this city. Although it’s usually true, having to say it can be avoided by giving yourself an extra 10-15 minutes to get to your desired location. In the same way, during your first few months (or longer) here, you will get lost, you will unintentionally take the super-mega-ultra long way…  and that is alright. Eventually, you will be able to navigate this city like a native. Just remember, we’ve all been there. We’ve all hopped on the wrong train, we’ve all gone astray in the Eaton Centre and we’ve all spent 2.5 hours looking for a burrito place on Spadina only to find out it’s been closed down for years. (Just me? Oh.)


Toronto is home to some of the most architecturally, historically and culturally renowned sceneries in the entire world. From the Distillery District to the Harbour Front, there is no shortage of beauty in The Six; however, in my opinion, there is no city sight more glorious than a dog in a coat and booties. Only visible during the winter months, puppies protect themselves from the elements just like we do – by wearing jackets and goulashes. Escorted by their owners, they step out onto the street in style, rocking custom frocks and paw protectors. It may not seem noteworthy, but amidst the annual case of “Winter Blues”, taking joy in these bundled up pups can temporarily lift you from your seasonal slump. For a moment, the snow stops, the sun shines and the wind no longer hurts your face. (Well maybe not really, but at least you just saw a super cute dog.)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Don't Worry About It

Published on RU Student Life

I had my first panic attack in eighth grade. I was at a YMCA dance, when a boy came over during “Two Is Better Than One” by Boys Like Girls and held out his hand.  Suddenly, the music seemed too loud, my chest tightened and I felt really nauseated. I ran out of the gym, hyperventilated and collapsed on the bathroom floor.
When I came around, my mom had arrived to pick me up. Driving home, I remember thinking “I am never going back there again.” and I didn’t. (In fact, I missed just about every dance at my high school, barely mustering up the courage to attend my prom.)
I had several episodes after that, mostly homework related. As a self-proclaimed overachiever, I struggled with my own perfectionism. I would spend countless hours on assignments and essays, insisting that every sentence be flawless to fulfill the unrealistic expectations I had set for myself.
In 2010, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, meaning I exhibit excessive, unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is little or nothing to provoke the anxiety.
To clarify, generalized anxiety is NOT getting nervous or worked up about responsibilities and upcoming events, like, “I really have to study for this test!” That is referred to as the stress response (A.K.A. fight or flight response), which is the body’s way of motivating you to do what needs to be done.
Generalized anxiety IS the constant fear that the worst is about to happen, and feeling as though you are completely unable to cope.  It is often characterized by “what if” thinking and neither prepares nor protects the worrier from what it is they fear. My incidents often followed the notion of inevitable failure: “If I don’t do well on this test, I will fail the course. If I fail the course, I won’t graduate. If I don’t graduate, I won’t go to university. If I don’t go university, I won’t get a job. If I don’t get a job, I’ll end up homeless.” These thoughts usually sparked a panic attack.
panic attack is a sudden rush of physical symptoms — in my case, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, light-headedness and nausea — coupled with an uncontrollable sense of impending doom. It kind of feels like the elongated sensation of falling in a dream or the way your stomach lurches when you miss a step on the stairs. You can’t control the feeling and you don’t quite understand why you are reacting in such a way.
In my senior year, my anxiety became chronic and my attacks more frequent. I was always exhausted and moody. I withdrew from extra-curricular activities, friends and family.
It became apparent that my thoughts were not normal. I would cry over a mark of 89%, skip school to sleep and even stress over Twitter and Instagram, afraid to post a picture or tweet in fear of what people might think. (Now I’m a Social Media Community Manager… go figure!)
At its peak, the night before a Biology exam, I had a series of panic attacks that lasted 4 hours. My heart was beating so rapidly, my entire body was trembling and I temporarily lost vision in my left eye. Life didn’t seem worth living if it meant worrying all the time.
Finally, last summer, I underwent Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviours that sustain or trigger anxiety.
In simpler terms, the meanings we assign to a situation affect how we feel and act, not the situation itself. These meanings are not always accurate, realistic, or helpful. Negative thoughts lead to unpleasant emotions and unhelpful behaviours that maintain the problem. (For example, avoiding dances for 4 years.)
In 2013, Statistics Canada released survey results stating that one in four Canadians will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. The sickness is common and relevant, yet many who suffer feel they are alone.
Anxiety Disorders are one of the most common mental health concerns in Canada. They are also highly treatable. The following crisis survival strategies are concrete, tangible activities you can engage in when you find yourself under pressure:

1) Get physically or mentally active

Find things to do that require your full attention to keep you from dwelling on the bad. Work out, do yoga, read a book, write a poem, etc.
Fun Fact: 30 minutes of aerobic exercise is equivalent to taking an antidepressant.

2) Utilize relaxation techniques

Deep Breathing: Inhale. Exhale. Tell yourself it’s going to be okay. (Simple, yet effective.)
Mindfulness: Focus your attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. For instance, if you are drinking coffee, focus on the smell, taste, warmth, etc.
Thought Diffusion: Visualize your thoughts, either as pictures or words, harmlessly floating away from you without obsessing or analyzing them. For example, see your thoughts written in sand and then watch the waves wash them away.

3) Energize your thinking

Use other thoughts to crowd your short-term memory. Count to 10; work a crossword, Sudoku or jigsaw puzzle; play Candy Crush, etc.

4) Seek powerful sensations

Strong physical sensations can interfere with the physiological component of your current negative emotion and short-circuit the emotional process. (I.e. Bite into an onion, wear a heat or ice pack, do push-ups, etc.)

5) Reach out

Share your problems with a friend or talk to a professional. Ryerson has counselling services on campus. Visit: for the Ryerson University Centre for Student Development and Counselling and other local resources. Heck, you can even reach out to me!
Mental health is not just the absence of a mental health disorder; it is a state of wellbeing. You don’t question whether or not to brush your teeth every morning? Why should taking care of your mind be any different?
Become informed, get involved and help shatter the stigma associated with mental illness.
© Julianna Garofalo. All rights reserved.
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