by Luci Navas Sharry
Halloween is over, but since we’re still getting questions about sexy costumes, we figured we’d take one last crack at the issue. You’ve heard it all before: as far as women’s costumes go, the options range from sexy scrabble board to sexy Big Bird to sexy Chuckie to sexy nun, but there aren’t a whole lot of options for women’s and girls’ costumes that aren’t “pretty”,“sexy”, or “sassy”. It’s starting young, too–just look at the difference between these toddler Cookie Monster costumes. That’s where SPARK is really concerned: little girls are getting this “sexy” stuff spoon fed to them at a very young age.
Here at SPARK, we see this as a major societal problem: the costume industry is using girls’ bodies as a marketing tool. Sexy is pretty much the only option if you’re a woman or girl and want to go the convenient route of a store-bought costume. Emphasis on the “girl”: Halloween is mainly a kids’ holiday, and sexualization in kids’ costumes is rampant, setting up girls for a future where Halloween is synonymous with sexy, instead of spooky or scary or fun.
But in our protest of the costume industry’s apparent sexy only policy, we’ve received a lot of feedback asking if we were against sexy costumes, or if we were trying to make women who enjoy wearing them feel bad about it. We’re not. We’re not interested in putting down individuals who enjoy wearing sexy costumes; we’re interested in calling out the industry that’s only offering sexy costumes and isn’t giving women another option. If you like sexy costumes and aren’t looking for another option, that’s fine! SPARK works to promote a healthy sexuality, and if that means dressing up sexy on Halloween for you, we’re not going to stand in your way.
The problem with “sexy Halloween” isn’t people’s individual choices to dress sexy or not–it’s the fact that costume makers ONLY give women and girls the option of dressing sexy, sassy, cute, etc. I really hate the expectation that because it’s Halloween I need to put on something sexy just because I am a teenage girl, when the expectation should be that if I walk into a costume shop, I’m actually just looking for a costume–be it funny, scary, sexy, or response to pop culture in clothing form. (I went as Kris Jenner, which, in my opinion, is funny, scary, sexy, and a response to pop culture all at once.)
At the same time, we really need to dig deep and look at what fuels these choices. Girls are conditioned to believe that their power comes from being sexy and that Halloween is the perfect time to manifest that. It’s totally a sexist double standard, of course, but it’s powerful, and it means that wanting to indulge in it is both super common and super confusing. Your costume is your choice, my lovely readers, and it’s up to you to decide how much you want to show, but how are we as young women supposed to meaningfully decide our limits when every costume maker on the planet is trying to get us to show our butts? How do we negotiate all of these different factors into our decision making without seeming like we’ve bought into some stupid notion about sex and power that people have been trying to sell us since we were little? It seems like no matter what happens, they win, we lose, and they want to keep it that way.
Wanting to wear a sexy costume doesn’t make you an idiot or a slut, just like not wearing a sexy costume doesn’t make you a Super Feminist immune to all media. We need to get beyond critiquing individuals for their costume choices, and spend more time and energy calling out the industries that make it so difficult for us to negotiate our own desires. People of all genders should be able to dress as sexy or unsexy or ghoulish or ghastly as they want on Halloween without having to worry about whether they’re playing into patriarchy. Let’s work together to make that happen.