A defense of “sexy” Halloween costumes

OK, so first things first: Let’s get the criticisms out of the way.
There are many problems with the nature of Halloween costumes that are considered “sexy.” The sexualization of youth and young girls, for one thing, is of course a big problem, such as the iconic “sexy schoolgirl” costume, or the sexualization of children’s characters (sexy Hermione, of the Harry Potter franchise, is a rather telling example). This is also related to the sexualization of submission (sexy French maid) and, in turn, the sexualization of pink-collar professions (think sexy nurse, sexy librarian) and, on the reverse, sexualization of positions of authority (sexy cop) or “bad girl” stereotypes (sexy pirate). These things are problematic because they point to the old-fashioned ideas about what sexiness is and/or what it should be, and because they define women’s sexuality in narrow, black-and-white terms.
There are also problems with selection; there are very few options for adult women’s Halloween costumes that aren’t in the sexy category. Almost every costume is a “sexy” spin on something and if you aren’t comfortable or interested in wearing provocative clothing, and don’t have the time, technical skill or energy to make your own, you can be hard-pressed to find a costume. And that isn’t fair, because Halloween shouldn’t be explicitly about one kind of dress-up. The selection available to you even if you do want to go the “sexy” route can be an issue as well; if you are above a size 14 or so (and, in my experience, really that means a 12 or even 10, because the sizes of costumes almost always fit very snugly) then good luck finding something as easily as your slighter friends can. I think the (un)availability of alternative costumes, including costumes in a wider range of sizes, definitely points to a problem in our society with how we perceive women’s roles. We are not all here to be size 6 sex kittens, but costume manufacturers would have you think otherwise.
However, I love dressing sexy at Halloween. I really do. And until this year, I’ve always felt that was in conflict with my feminism–until I decided to make the choice to not think that way.

It’s not a conflict, because my feminism is only what I want it to be. I love finding creative ways of expressing sexuality, and to me that’s often what Halloween allows us; when you break away from the mundane nurse-schoolgirl-cop routine, you have the opportunity to say, “Look, there is sex and erotica all around us, in everything–let’s embrace that!” Sometimes this is funny, like when people dress up as “Sexy ____” (fill in the blank with your everyday inanimate object). Or it can be repulsive in a way that reminds us sex isn’t always pretty; sexy zombie is a good example of that one. But sex is funny, and sex is gross, and sex is beautiful; it is so many things. Tacking “sexy” as a prefix to your Halloween costume should not mean anything more than what you want it to mean–that that night, at that party, you want to be sexy. And you damn well should be, if that’s what you want.
Every year around Halloween, I see some columnist or blogger or other talk about how “Halloween is just an excuse for girls and women to whore it up all night.” But every time I read that, I think to myself, so what? What’s wrong with having a night where we can say “This is my body, and I’m not ashamed of it, or of using it to express my sexuality.” In fact, the only about that that seems wrong to me is the fact that it’s limited to one day, when the other 364 days of the year turn that idea on its head.
I read a column today that was leaning on the side of defending sexy costumes, which was refreshing. The author stated that costumes give us a chance to be bolder, and friendlier with one another, if only because they serve as conversation-starters while simultaneoulsy providing a sort of inhibition-squashing camouflage. This is a good thing. This is a needed outlet. I’d love to see the day when we have all lightened up and don’t need to limit our sexual boldness to a single day, but in the time being, I’m glad that at least we have this.
For the record, I’m not going sexy this year; simply because I decided on a different idea. I’ve dressed sexy in the past some years, and not other years. I’m sure that I will dress in a sexy costume again in the future, because year to year my ideas for costumes change. I love Halloween, and I don’t restrict the idea of dressing up to mean one thing or another. It doesn’t HAVE to be scary, or sweet, or sexy, or girly. It can be anything, and that’s part of the fun. I’ve dressed up as Morticia Adams and a zombie prom queen, in the typical goth tradition; I’ve dressed up as a dominatrix (with my boyfriend playing my sex slave) and a sexy Robin Hood. I’ve dressed up as an 80’s girl and this year, I’m going with a tried-and-true feminist cliché and dressing up as Rosie the Riveter. It doesn’t matter to me how revealing the outfit or how silly the person or thing is that I’m sexualizing (or not sexualizing), as long as I have fun with it.
So, there it is, my ode to sexy Halloween costumes. Please feel free to leave your thoughts, but please do not use the comment space to make others who choose to wear sexy costumes fell less of themselves. That is their choice, as much as your choice is your own.
Happy Halloween everyone!

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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