When I was younger, I used to love dressing up as a zombie for halloween. I’d put the most disgusting, greasy gel in my hair until each strand was slimy and then my mom would help me weave in plastic, glow-in-the-dark maggots. Yeah, I was that kid -- the one who looked so ghastly that parents and other trick-or-treaters would avoid me -- and I loved it. Admittedly, my friends never looked quite as gross, but they had fun costumes too, for a while. And then one year, everyone was suddenly wearing “sexy” costumes. What happened?
Well, there comes a time when the mass-manufactured costumes available for men and women become almost humorously different. What’s not humorous is the way in which these differences are designed to objectify women. Characters that could easily be the same for men and women are manufactured such that the woman’s versions almost always sexualizes the wearer and detracts from what she is supposed to be. The “sexy cop” costume contains so little fabric that the wearer could easily be mistaken for a cat (really, swap the hat for the ears and no one would notice). Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to wear a “sexy” costume, but there are issues with the way society and mass media approach women and halloween:
“Sexy [insert literally any object here]” is virtually the only kind of costume commercially available for women.
There is an expectation that women should wear “sexy” costumes for Halloween.
These hyper-sexualized costumes are being created to target younger and younger female costumes.
The mass-manufacturing of “sexy” halloween costumes marketed exclusively towards women is a form of objectification. Women are not sex objects; let’s not reduce them to such.
The costumes aren’t going to change any time soon, but here are some things to keep in mind during the final days of Halloween season:
There is no singular definition of “sexy” and not everyone wants to be sexy. Wear whatever makes you feel good.
A person wearing a “sexy” outfit is not asking for moral judgement.
If you decide not to wear a “sexy” outfit, you do not have a license to look down on those who do dress in a “sexy” outfit.
Wearing a “sexy” costume is not an invitation for sexual advances.
Making your own costume (“sexy” or not) is a great way to disrupt the commercial market. Get creative!
And while we’re here, healthy communication comes down to respect, right? So here’s a list of questions to ask yourself to check if your costume might be culturally insensitive (as far too many are).
- Is my costume supposed to be funny? Is the humour based on making fun of real people/human traits/cultures?
Does my costume represent a culture that is not my own?
Does my costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or stereotypes?
Does the packaging my costume came in include the words “traditional”, “colonial”, “cultural”, “authentic” or “tribal”?
Does my costume perpetuate stereotypes, misinformation, or historical and cultural inaccuracies?
Would I be embarrassed or ashamed if someone from the group I’m portraying saw me wearing this?
Have a Happy Halloween -- and don’t be afraid to rock those glow-in-the-dark maggots!