Why is there so much pressure on women to dress ‘sexy’ at Halloween?

I will admit to having bought into the whole “sexy costume” thing for the best part of my teenage and student years.

First Published in The Independent 30th October 2013

I will admit to having bought into the whole “sexy costume” thing for the best part of my teenage and student years. I’ve been a sexy zombie, a sexy schoolgirl, a sexy boxer, a sexy Alice in Wonderland, and one year I turned up wearing construction tape, boots and little else. But this year, I think I’m going to branch out a bit and go as my favourite writer or artist or character from American Horror Story. Why? Because I’m bored.

I’m bored of the knee socks and tiny polyester dresses that are designed to show as much boob as possible. They all look the same. I’m bored of going to Halloween parties with 20 million sexy cats and no girls dressed up as anything else. I’m bored of being part of a bunch of half-naked girls when our male peers get to be genuinely scary-looking and not worry about a nip-slip during the evening’s festivities. I’m ready for something different, something that doesn’t involve ubiquitous, pre-packaged “sexy” that doesn’t help me express my sexuality or even make me feel particularly good in my own skin.

The top Google hit for “Halloween costumes” after sponsored sites and eBay is a certain party store. For women, the site offers three main options before it gets to wigs and accessories: “Sexy Halloween Costumes”, “Cheap Halloween Costumes” and “Plus Size Costumes”.
Men get “Film& TV Costumes”, “Cheap Halloween Costumes” and “Plus Size Costumes”. It seems hardly fair that we’re stuck with sexy while the boys get all the film and TV characters in their corner. Why is there no sexy section for men? Why is that the main differentiating category for women’s costumes? I sense that there just might be some sexism going on here.My concern is that Halloween provides a microcosmic peek at a society where women are primarily valued by how physically or sexually attractive they are, above their intellect or their achievements or their personalities. Sexuality is definitely a part of who we are, but it’s not all we are. The lack of alternatives to “sexy” in shop-bought Halloween costumes illustrates a reduction of choice and a reduction of possibilities for who women are allowed to be when they re-imagine themselves in costume form.I don’t want to slut-shame anyone, on Halloween or at any other time, and by that I mean passing judgment on other women or mocking them because of how they conduct their sex lives or how they express their sexuality. However, and this is where it gets tricky, there is a difference between recognizing when some sexism is occurring and not respecting the choices of fellow ladies. Men and women should both have the option of looking sexy on Halloween, but when it is the onlyavailable option for women, at the expense of all other options, then I start feeling a bit cross and like I’ve been somehow shortchanged.

Tina Fey’s beautifully scripted Mean Girls is of course, a cultural case-in-point here. Cady dresses up as scarily as she can, because she has not yet learned the rules of “Girl World”. She realises that: “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” This implies that on no other days or nights of the year can women dress in a sexy or provocative way without being in some way punished or shamed. Who is giving women this weird permission on Halloween to demonstrate their sexuality? I’m not sure I want a bizarre cultural thumbs-up to get my upper thighs, midriff and cleavage out, one night a year. I think I’d quite like the option of being whoever I want on Halloween (sexy or unsexy) and the ability to celebrate my sexuality, whenever the hell I like.

Surely, if we stopped being judged and slut-shamed and put into good girl/bad girl boxes all the rest of the year, then Halloween could just be about “dressing up as stuff” rather than a time when boys get to dress up as stuff and girls get to dress up as sexy stuff. Let’s see some costume variety this year, and a mixture of sexiness, quirkiness, hilarity and scares, undivided by gender.

Author: harrietpwilliamson