What does this mean for consumers? Well, for one thing, we’re seeing a lot of costumes that reproduce tired gender stereotypes. Sex sells, and in an $8 billion seasonal industry, it seems designers and retailers are maximizing profits by creating more and more “sexy” costumes for women and girls. In fact, at this point, if you’re female, “sexy” is hardly an option anymore. It’s practically a requirement.
Cartoon by Andy Mariette, via Sociological Images
In today’s relatively new, hypercommercial Halloween, it’s become an expectation for females to dress in sexually provocative ways–even when costumed as, say, a children’s cartoon character, like Nemo from Finding Nemo.
The same applies to mundanely macabre items like body bags. Are you a man? Your body bag Halloween costume will resemble an actual body bag. Are you a woman? The ladies’ version of a body bag costume will be (drum roll…) a skimpy dress with a hood that zips over your head. Ugh.
Adding insult to injury, the definition of “sexy” applied to the majority of women’s Halloween costumes is appallingly narrow. Tiny dresses with a lot of revealed skin available in a very limited range of sizes make it clear: Mainstream, readily-available “sexy” costumes aren’t being made for the full-figured, despite the fact that a size 14 is the average American woman’s size.
The typical sexy Halloween costumes divide women and shortchange young girls by conveying the same old message: if you don’t fit our society’s narrow beauty ideal, this culture doesn’t want to think of you as being sexually desirable. So you’d better focus on your appearance above all else. Note that even the “sexy” costume for Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid is scaled down, available in tiny sizes, even though the original character from the film is a confident, full-figured woman–which seems really incongruous.
Unfortunately, as parents of young girls know, today’s girls’ Halloween costumes are highly sexualized, too. This reinforces the same unhealthy messages about what female bodies are considered desirable and undesirable in our culture.
For example, compare the “Little Leopard” costume for young girls to the adult “Sexy Leopard” costumes.
Do you see much difference between “Little Leopard” and “Sexy Leopard”? I don’t.
But it doesn’t stop there. Even the most inane girls’ costume ideas are rendered in skimpy styles, calculated to be provocative. From sexy witches and sexy vampires to sexy crayons, costumes that encourage girls to sexualize themselves are everywhere.
What about costumes based on children’s toys? Surely these would be reasonable…. right? Sadly, that’s not the case. So many toys that are popular with girls are already sexualized, which makes the costumes based on the toys come across as sexy, too. As Gigi Durham wrote in The Lolita Effect:
Last Halloween, a five-year-old girl showed up at my doorstep decked out in a tube top, gauzy miniskirt, platform shoes, and glittering eye shadow. The outfit projected a rather tawdry adult sexuality. “I’m a Bratz!” the tot piped up proudly, brandishing a look-alike doll clutched in her chubby fist. I had an instant, dizzying flashback to an image of a child prostitute I had seen in Cambodia, dressed in a disturbingly similar outfit.
Nowadays, Bratz are out, and Monster High is in. Here’s a snapshot I took of Monster High costumes for girls ages 4 to 14:
Can you see the problem?
Meanwhile, children’s classic Disney Princess costumes are sweet and modest, a welcome oasis from these other sexualized costumes. But they are often placed steps away from Sexy Disney Princess costumes, as I discovered in our local Halloween store.
The idea of a little girl going shopping with her parents for a Disney Princess costume and coming face-to-face with sexualized versions of her favorite characters—Sexy Snow White, Sexy Rapunzel, and so on, all in little mini skirts and low-cut tops—is incredibly troubling.
No wonder some are complaining that Halloween has turned into “Happy Sexualize our Daughters Season.” Ugh.
For Further Reading
Interviews with Rebecca Hains on Halloween and princess culture:
- The Los Angeles Times: “Are you sure your daughter should dress up as a princess this Halloween?“
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Halloween scare: A princess in my house“
Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Her book, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, is now available from retailers including Amazon.