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October 29, 2007
Costumes? OK, But Not For Kids
It seems everyone has something to say about the phenomenon of sexy
Halloween costumes and the women who wear them in seemingly increasing
numbers every year.
Joel Stein, for one, wrote for the Los Angeles Times recently
that this trend has “ruined” an innocent children’s holiday, as one
can’t shop for a costume without being exposed to sexy attire galore.
In the New York Times last year, Stephanie Rosenbloom penned an
article exploring the trend, quoting Deborah Tolman, the director of the
Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State
University, as saying that such costumes allow for a “safe space” for
women to challenge gender norms. Books have been written on the topic.
Sociologists have studied it. It is quite the microcosm of American
society, and I think that contributes to the scholarly fascination
It is a trend that I have watched evolve. It seems that five years ago,
costumes tended more toward the creative than the naked-as-possible. I
remember the year when I realized the pervasiveness of this trend: I
arrived at a college Halloween party as a fully-clothed witch and stood
out more than I would have if I’d been completely naked.
Every year it seems to get more outrageous, with even the chastest of
professions or fictional characters getting objectified in costume form.
This year I observed a sexy Raggedy Ann as well as a sexy nun.
I, like many feminists, sociologists and journalists, wonder if such
costuming is a positive or negative for women to embrace. Is it a way
for women to unabashedly express their sexuality? Or does it turn
Halloween into a holiday that benefits not eager young children with
trick-or-treat bags, but men who get to ogle their fantasies in the
First of all, there’s something disturbing about taking a male-dominated
profession and exemplifying it in an overtly sexual way. Sexy cop. Sexy
fireman. Sexy construction worker. As if women cannot take part in such
professions in any serious way and can only role-play in skimpy
clothing. Meanwhile the male versions of these costumes actually
resemble the real professions.
Even more disturbing, however, are the costumes now offered to
adolescent girls, which shockingly mirror the adult versions in their
overt sexuality. For example, one web site I found featured fireman
costumes for young girls that hit at upper-thigh and come with knee-high
red boots. When I was a child, Halloween meant finding a costume that I
could keep warm in when I went trick-or-treating.
Dr. Adie Nelson, sociologist and writer of a book titled “The Pink
Dragon Is Female: Halloween Costumes and Gender Markers”, which studies
the gender messages in children’s costumes, noted that many little
girls’ costumes created the appearance of a bust where there shouldn’t
even be one yet.
This is where the trend gets out of hand. While I don’t necessarily
agree with Joel Stein that Halloween is for children and adults are
selfish for making it into a sexual holiday (his solution is the
creation of a midsummer Slut Day), I do think that taking adult
sexuality and applying it to children and young girls, specifically, is
repulsive and is the real lost innocence that Stein should be concerned
When you get down to it, however, there is nothing inherently wrong with
an adult wanting to exhibit one’s sexuality one night a year. In fact,
most bathing suits bare more than even the skimpiest of costumes
(although I have seen women turn a bikini into a costume). Obviously,
women should have the choice to uncover or cover up.
What I take issue with are the issues above and that it’s nearly
impossible for me, as a female, to shop for a costume that isn’t
revealing. I went to a comic book theme party this year, and as I’m sure
you can imagine, it was difficult to find any costumes other than sexy
Wonderwoman, sexy Catwoman and sexy Lois Lane. I had to come up with
something on my own.
can’t say I would be upset if this trend died (though I can’t foresee
that happening). Meantime, I’ll be nice and warm in my homemade costume.
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