The Sexualization of Halloween

So, because I’m a horrible student and push off all of my work until the last minute, I was not free to enjoy any Halloween festivities last night. Instead, I spent the evening reading an 18th century British play, studying for an econ midterm, and reminiscing on better spent Halloween’s past.

While doing such reminiscing, I was also having to think about what to write about for this blog post. And what better thought to cross my mind than Halloween costumes? Or worse — the sexy Halloween costumes that people dress up in.

“Sexy Hermione Granger”. A costume we’re all probably too familiar with.

It’s not uncommon that every fall, people start pointing out the atrociously sexual Halloween costumes that are put out on the market — that people actually buy. This fall, the big thing to talk about was the Jane Doe DOA Body-bag (it’s a legit thing, and I am sufficiently traumatized from having to find that link). That’s right. An actual costume where women are supposed to dress as a bag for dead bodies — not even just dead bodies, but specifically an unidentified dead female body. As a sex object. Think on that for a moment and thank whatever deity you believe in if you didn’t spot anyone wearing that last night.

Cracked has written several articles about the so-called “sexy” Halloween costumes that pepper our community. The best, in my opinion, is their cover of the scarily absurd costumes in 26 Halloween Costumes that Shouldn’t Exist. But this is all stuff you’ve heard about before — the sexy nurse, the sexy librarian, the sexy insert-whatever-you-can-think-of costume.

“Sexy Pregnant Raggedy Ann Doll”. I kid you not.

But that’s not what I was thinking of. What I found myself reminiscing on was my own personal history with some terrible costumes.

Whenever people bring up costumes, I always perk up because I like to share my own past favorite. My freshman year at JMU (and one of my first years celebrating Halloween since I was 8 years old), I found myself at a loss as to what to wear. So I looked in my closet, found a little black dress that I never wore for the exact reason that it was too-short, too-tight, and showed too much cleavage. I put on more make up than I usually wore for the express purpose of the outfit and pulled out some black heels I’d forgotten about. And then I grabbed an erasable board marker and told everyone to write their phone numbers on me.

I was a Little Black Book.

It’s a costume that got a lot of attention and I relished in it. But now, four years later I look back on it and ask…why? Was it simply — as I liked to tell myself at the time — the cleverness of it all? The simplicity of the costume? Or was it — as I clearly suspect now — the fact that I reduced my body to a sexual object for others to openly stare at and touch? Because I took my gender identity and cheapened it to something overly sexual? Something that, let’s not forget, is usually owned and used by men to record their sexual “conquests” and keep them organized and have at the tip of their fingers. I honestly don’t know what to think of that costume now; what to think of my 18-year-old self who felt so proud when people called my costume ingenious and promised to use it the next year.

And mine was, as terrible as I made it sound, so much tamer than the costumes I’ve seen my friends wear. Last year a friend of mine literally put on her shortest shorts, bought some fake across-the-shoulder ammo belt, painted two black lines on her face and called herself an “army girl”. Not to mention another friend who put on her smallest skirt, threw on her trench-coat, pulled her hair into a bun, and claimed to be a “sexy secretary”. These are just a few of the ones that stand out in my mind, but there have been countless more that all blend together in my mind.

We can also look at the ridiculous double standards — because while I can think of a few choice examples of some “sexy” guy costumes (Chippendale dancers being the first to come to mind), more often than not the ones that stick out in my mind are all clever and inventive and cover their bodies. A friend of mine wore a tiger onesie and sewed leaves to it dubbing himself “Tiger Woods”. Another dressed up as The Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who and ran around with a homemade sonic screwdriver. I even remember two of the guys who wrote their numbers on me that freshman year Halloween — one was dressed as Quailman from the 90’s cartoon “Doug” and the other was dressed as Cat in the Hat.

And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that most likely if a girl was going to dress in any of these costumes they would be expected to appropriately alter the costume to be considered stereotypically feminine and sexually appealing to the male population. The tiger onesie would be short-shorts and a tank top, while The Tenth Doctor would suddenly have a mini-skirt and a revealing cleavage. “Quailwoman” would be recognizable only by the tell-tale belt around the head and maybe the towel cape, while a girl!Cat in the Hat would wear the hat and a slinky black dress. If you don’t believe me think of the countless number of girl!Batman (not Batgirl — there’s a difference) and girl!Robin costumes you’ve no doubt seen over the years.

So, how can we fix this disparity? How can we make it that a woman won’t be marginalized, looked down upon, or simply ignored for not making their costume “appropriately” feminine or sexy? When can a girl dress as Harry Potter in pants and an unrevealing sweater vest instead of “Sexy Hermione Granger”? Even more importantly — when can we reach a time when little girls don’t have to be limited to princesses and witches and Dora the Explorer? When little boys don’t have to be left to be only ninja’s and pirates and soldiers and can be free to dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo without a media outcry in response?

I don’t know. I have no answers. But I suspect we’ll get closer to that day when feminists like me look at our own past costume faults and make a point not to make them again.

2 thoughts on “The Sexualization of Halloween

  1. So, I really wanted to go as a Harry Potter character recently and that was one of the ONLY options in terms of a ready made costume….annoying. The only other actual costume-like option that was available is the replica costume from Warner Brothers which is a million dollars….not really but it might as well be. I have no answers either but it’s nice to be able to have a conversation about Halloween without just having to nod and smile.

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  2. HAHA I love this post! Um Quailman and Cat in the Hat? I totally know those guys (I’m convinced it’s the same ones) and can’t wait to tell them about you. I saw “sexy traffic cone” last year (2 strips of orange material, one for the breasts and one for a mini skirt, with a tiny orange cone hat) – worst.costume.ever.

    Last year a friend of mine decided to wear a camo jumper and be a GI Joe – pretty sweet idea right? When she shared this with a few girls we were going out with later that night, one said, “I don’t get it…like a sexy GI Joe?” My friend said, “No, just a Gi Joe.” Girl replied, “So, are you wearing heels?” LOL My friend went as a very un-sexy GI Joe and looked more awesome (and warmer!) than anyone.

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