For a few years now, I’ve flirted with the idea of going as a psycho killer for Halloween. The costume would consist of three main components: a bloodstained straitjacket, a half-mask (a la Hannibal Lecter), and a bloody knife or scalpel. But when I set out to find a straitjacket costume in my size, I hit sort of a roadblock; most of them were sized for men, and when I looked for women’s sizes, well, this (and variations thereof) is all that came up:
It was just another frustrating detail in an ongoing feminist debate about so-called “sexy” Halloween costumes. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 20 years or so, you’ve probably noticed that women’s costumes have gotten skimpier and more sexualized with each passing year. Men’s costumes, meanwhile, have pretty much stayed in the realm of standard Halloween fare; you’ve got your zombies, your Draculas, your Freddy Kruegers and so on. But walk into the women’s section of your local Halloween superstore and the tone changes right away. Sure, you’ll find zombies, but they’re sexy zombies and sexy vampires and sexy Freddy Kruegers.
I don’t know when this trend started, but I’m sure that sexy Halloween costumes have always been around in some form or another. You could even make the argument that some costumes are well-suited to the sexy treatment; vampires are traditionally seductive, going all the way back to the three undead sisters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so dressing up as a sexy vampire isn’t unreasonable. But not everything lends itself to being sexy.
Like this, for example.
I write this article with just a hint of hypocrisy; I’ve done the sexy costume thing a couple of times. I’ve gone as a witch in a strapless purple dress and as a vampire in that same dress (the funny thing about most pre-packaged witch costumes is that you can put on some white makeup, leave the hat at home, and BAM, you’re a vampire). I’ve gone as a devil in a red bustier, a leather jacket and black skinny jeans. My argument isn’t that women shouldn’t wear sexy costumes — the whole point of dressing up for Halloween is that you can be whomever or whatever you want, and if you want to be a sexy Ninja Turtle, then by all means, be a sexy Ninja Turtle; it’s empowering to dress as whatever you want for a night. But when women are conditioned to feel like they have to be sexy, as if the whole point of Halloween is to be eye candy for men . . . well, that’s not so empowering anymore.
Sexy Freddy Krueger up there embodies everything wrong with the sexy costume trend. Freddy Krueger is a horror icon, a disfigured madman who kills children while they sleep — in other words, a badass Halloween costume. But you’ll notice one glaring omission from the women’s version of the Krueger costume (aside from the lack of pants): no burn scars. Because those aren’t sexy, and why, asks the industry, would a woman want to be anything but sexy? Isn’t that why women exist — to look pretty for men?
And that’s really what this is about. On Halloween, men are encouraged to dress up however they want. Women, meanwhile, are encouraged to dress in a way that pleases men. And that sucks.
But what sucks even more is that the trend isn’t limited to adult costumes anymore.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who mumbled, “Oh, for Christ’s sake” upon seeing that on display in the kids section at a local Halloween store. I’m no prude (just ask the neighbors) and I can see where a costume like this would be geared toward adults, but this is being marketed to pre-teen girls. Girls who are already inundated with unrealistic and unhealthy messages about their bodies and their own sexuality (the name of the costume, by the way, is “Red Hot Devil” and it’s listed as a children’s costume). There are so many reasons why this is inappropriate that I could write a whole separate article on that topic alone, but it’s late and I don’t have the energy to sustain the perpetual sense of annoyance that it would take to deal with those issues.
So instead, I’ll say this: dress however you want for Halloween. Be sexy, be gory, be funny, be a pretentious political statement — be whomever or whatever you want to be. But ask yourself if you’re doing it for you, or if you’re doing it to please others. I can guarantee that you’ll have more fun doing the former than the latter.