Trick or Treat?: Sexualization of Halloween Costumes

by Paige N.

Halloween is an event in which people engage in leisure, offering a unique opportunity to present yourself differently from everyday life. As a child, I remember dressing up in costumes such as a witch, cat and pumpkin and as I got older (I am sure others will agree too), my peers and I were still able to dress up as those characters but with “less fabric and more of a push up bra”.

Halloween: once associated with innocent children dressing up as Ghostbusters asking for candy. Now, it seems women and adolescent girls are encouraged to dress however they want as long as the outfit is associated with the prefix “sexy” or “slutty”. Originally, “sexy Halloween costumes” were something found in fetish shop windows and today, these costumes have left the shop windows and emerged in mainstream society.

This shift from “scary to sexy” can negatively impact women in the workforce. Most Halloween costumes for women are “sexy versions” of something, for example sexy fire-fighter or sexy nurse. The portrayal of almost every single occupation in a sexual light is unlikely to contribute to women being taken seriously. Over the last fifty years, the women’s movement has been a key driver to increase the status and significance of women to promote equality. These sexually suggestive costumes defeat the purpose of the women’s movement and generally depict women as “sex symbols”.

Not only are Halloween costumes of a sexual nature present for women but younger individuals too. The implication of exposure to sexualized Halloween costumes at such a young age, can encourage an obsession with one’s body image. Numerous costumes are sending deliberate messages to teens about body image, with emphasis on being a certain “body type”. For example, many outfits designed for teenagers are “short and low cut” and made for a “thin” body type. Therefore, there is pressure to be this specific body type and unavailability to wear such outfits if you are more of a full figure.

Moreover, it has become almost customary that adolescent girls wear costumes that vaguely resemble animals or figures of authority. Commonly, there is pressure for young girls to conform to dress up in a sexy outfit to fit in. From my observation, there is a considerable amount of conformity among girl groups nowadays. Many individuals might “do the same or wear the same” as their peers, as an act of acceptance within a group to reduce judgments of being “different”.

I perceive conformity to contribute towards the development of sexualized Halloween costumes. A great example is noted in the movie Mean Girls. Lindsay Lohan’s character is unaware of the “sexy Halloween costume” rule, and shows up to a party dressed as a zombie bride, complete with ugly fake teeth and a dress which covered most of her body. She was predictably out of place and remarks ” I guess in girl world, Halloween is the one night a years when a girl can dress like a total slut, and no other girls can say anything about it”. Popular movies like Mean Girls act as a gateway and endorsement for a sexualized nature amongst women and young girls.

In addition, these kind of messages sent early to children will only further perpetuate the message that the media sends i.e. both emphasis of thinness and sexuality. Another example I found in an article by the guardian goes to show how the “sexy little girl” has become insistently present in the media. The article describes an acquaintance on Halloween with a five year old girl, wearing a tube top, miniskirt, platform shoes and eye shadow shouting “im a Bratz”. Related to the concept of sexualized clothing, this example displays how influential everyday toys directly impact younger individuals, and a “toys” contribution toward the sexual nature of Halloween Costumes.

The University of Texas have undertaken studies related to how a sexualized body image negatively effects young adolescent girls. Research suggests 10-15 year old girls with higher levels of internalized sexualization (belief to be sexually attractive), achieve lower grades at school than their peers. Related to this study, Halloween costume choices for girls may reflect a damaging preoccupation with being sexually attractive. For example, boys have multiple costume options ranging from scary, funny, nerdy and powerful, whereas girls are limited in scope and increasingly sexualized with features such a fitted bodess , short skirts and heels. Wearing a sexy costume may not negatively affect a girls development, but continued exposure to sex messages can lead to decreased self esteem, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and depression.

These problems are serious and just because something is sold and displayed in a store, should not be perceived as the norm when it comes to body image, sexiness or fashionability. Halloween should be an opportunity for people to show off their creativity and not be a time when women feel they SHOULD wear sexy costumes but be the one night a year when women/ girls break from this.

References:

Goodin, S.M., Denburg, A.V., Mumen, S.K., & Smolak, L. (2011). Putting on sexiness: A content analysis of the presence of sexualizing characteristics in girls’ clothing. Journal of Sex Roles, 65(1-2), pp. 1-12.

The Guardian (2015). Women. Lost youth: turning young girls into sex symbols. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/18/lost-youth-young-girls

The Guardian (2015). Halloween. Why are Halloween costumes so ‘slutty’? Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2014/oct/20/halloween-costumes-slutty-sexy-witch-women-creativity-boob

The University of Texas (2014). Sexualized body image has negative effect on young adolescent girls. Retrieved from http://www.utexas.edu/news/2014/10/29/body-image-adolescent-girls/
Valley (2014). The link between Halloween costumes and body image. Retrieved from http://www.valleymagazinepsu.com

Article-Buzz (n.d.).Fashion. Sexy Halloween costumes advocate healthy body image. Retrieved from http://www.article-buzz.com/Article/Sexy-Halloween-Costumes-Advocate-Healthy-Body-Image/326548#.VQcwZe9_n4h

The Body Image Therapy Center (2014). Sexualization of girls’ halloween costumes. Retrieved from http://thebodyimagecenter.com/news-blogs/body-image/sexualization-girls-halloween-costumes/

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8 responses

  1. Great post Paige!

    I really enjoyed reading this post as you made some very interesting points. It’s almost impossible to believe how society has managed to change such an original event, to only sexualizing and scrutinizing women’s ideology.

    I think back to my childhood, Halloween revolved around who could get the most candy or have the scariest looking outfit. One of my friends even went dressed as Ozzy Osbourne one year, not remotely sexy, slutty or attractive. Yet my younger sister’s Halloween outfits have shown the significant change in the expectations of women, and the encouragement of sexualization and implementing it into mainstream society.

    I strongly agree with the point you made about women’s occupations never been taking seriously, because of the profound influence of them being sexy costumes at Halloween. I never really thought about how this could impact the way in which women are portrayed, but these are life saving occupations that still manage to be demoralized by societies conformities.

    This is only for one night a year, so many look beyond the influence it may or may not have. However, as you mentioned, the media, movies and the type of costumes being made in today’s generation will only perpetuate the sexualization. Perhaps it is more so becoming the new norm? By allowing these gateways and endorsements for this, most girls now concentrate on what they look like rather than their grades from a very young age.

  2. Thanks Paige for posting this! You made some excellent points and made me realize how much this phenomenon influences society.

    People are hesitant to break from the ideal body image and sexualization of women because it has been proven that sex sells in our society. Despite what individuals believe, everyone is looking for acceptance amongst their peers. Seeing Lindsay Lohan show up dressed completely differently than all the other characters emphasized how different her values were. The movie is about how disparately she tries to fit within the ideal image of a high school girl but ends up just being herself and building lasting relationships with those around her.

    “Mean Girls” is perhaps one of the most quoted movies of our generation and I think it really adds to the argument you are making here. It emphasizes the effects that high school cliques and conforming to the norm can have on young girls. I agree that Halloween should be a time where people can show their creativity or how they see themselves. Using this occasion to highlight this message may, eventually, help to change body image and sexualization in society.

    There are so many campaigns and advertisements that aim to empower women to be who they want to be and do what they want to do but many still have underlying messages of traditional gender stereotypes. For example, sport apparel companies will feature women working hard and sweating but also wearing a sports bra. Progress has been made to empower women but with the example of Halloween costumes, there is still a long way to go.

    – Andrea J

  3. Great blog !

    Every Halloween I seem to have the same discussion with friends about the pressure put on girls to dress “sexy/slutty” on Halloween. I’ve always found it quite frustrating,personally, to want to go out for Halloween, but have the unnecessary pressure to dress in a “sexy” costume. Sexuality is definitely part of us, but its not all we are made up of. Women who experience the pressures (and cave in to) sexy costumes are suppressing other characteristics of themselves, such as personality.

    I think the paragraph where you bring up mean girls is fantastic ! Mean girls is SUCH a popular/quoted movie, and as we’ve spoken about in class media is very influential. I read another blog that spoke about the quote you posted, and brought light to the fact that it states Halloween is the one night a year girls can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it, well what about every other day of the year? It is interesting to think about how girls view Halloween as a “pass” to dress however they want, but shouldn’t we be able to dress however we want EVERY day of the year?

    I think its great that you brought up that the pressures to wear sexy costumes isn’t just adults, it has targeted the younger generations as well. I think sexualizing childrens toys/ TV characters plays a very big role in the development of body image, and eating disorders in young kids, both boys and girls. I am always so shocked when I see photos of girls who are 11, 12 years old, and could pass as 20-25. I believe children now a days are surrounded by images of sexy women, and “perfection”. Like you said, girls dressing up as Bratz dolls is extremely common. I believe this places extreme pressures on young girls to fit the ideological image of women.

    Here is a video I came across this past Halloween, and I think it ties in well with your blog!

    Awesome job!

    –Sarah

  4. I really like your blog post Paige, It has become quite the dramatic change in Halloween costumes from what I have seen in the past. Woman are being sexualized like crazy. The only people to blame for this are the woman themselves that put themselves in these sexualized costumes to try to stick out and get attention from guys. First off no one should even be making these costumes that show absolutely nothing. Halloween is meant for little kids to go get treats not for teenage girls to run around the street half naked. It is hard for woman to be taken seriously when they are in these sexually suggestive costumes. Even on the costumes when you see the person modelling it they are always very thin and perfect looking. no one can ever seem to achieve these looks even if they tried. leading to low self esteem and depression like you expressed in your blog post. I really like the fact that you think Halloween should be an opportunity to show off creativity and not make woman feel that they should have to wear these sexy costumes.
    Desiray Wells

  5. Paige, I thought this was an interesting post covering a topic that often gets forgotten about unless it’s during the holiday season. It’s interesting to see how over time society has managed to change such a fun, festive and innocent event, to sexualizing women. Even more so how society will label or blame the women if she does choose to dress this way, rather than criticizing society’s pressures from media to conform.
    It wasn’t until university I really considered the point about women’s occupations never being taken seriously because of the marketing of a certain profession being sold as a “sexy” costume at Halloween. When deciding costumes for Halloween my friend, who was a 1st year in Nursing, brought up that her professors said that it would be highly inappropriate for any of them to dress as a “sexy nurse” for the occasion. Once I had thought about it, it put into perspective how little things like dressing a certain way do affect our view of that profession. I thought it was awesome for these professional women to take a stand against it. To take the time and explain to their first year students that they should instead have fun with their costume without featuring their profession at the butt of the joke. This comment meant more than falling to the norms of society but challenged those students to be role models for other students and show respect for current Nurses.

    I found the study you presented that took place at the University of Texas a huge eye opener as well. The research suggesting that 10-15 year old girls with higher levels of internalized sexualisation (belief to be sexually attractive) achieves lower grades at school than their peers. This finding made me feel ashamed of our society, that statistic alone proves how impressionable young females are. Even more disappointing is to think of how media will use this feeling females have of needing to prove their beauty over smarts to their advantage.

    Media has always said “sex sells”, which has been proven over and over again – but if the mass media consumers are young females isn’t it interesting that we aren’t presenting sexy in a way that doesn’t have to demean a profession or a girl’s body? Why doesn’t magazines like Teen Vogue focus on how to empower young girls so that they grow into confident strong women that her self worth can’t be defined by a costume package at Wal-Mart.

    Halloween is such a fun time of year, I am hopeful that the more this topic is brought up the more females can take a stand and show future generations that yes sexuality is part of our make up and should be prided in, however its not all we are made up of.

    -Meghan S

  6. Great post Paige!

    I think this is an interesting area to consider with the flooding of gender stereotypes during those festivities that don’t always get acknowledged!

    I find that costume shopping is very gender segregated too – even from a young age with boys having the options from super heroes, nerdy or scary and also practically any career outfit. Whereas girls are presented with more feminine character outfits – even their super hero costumes include a tutu instead of pants. Focusing on the “sexy” side that has been incorporated into Halloween you can see the increasing shifts as people reach teenage/ young adult ages. Male costumes still have pants and a regular fitting top to choose from, while female costumes feature a fitted bodes, short skirts. The female model is also more times that not pictured wearing heels with the outfit, which for a high school girl is impractical (candy collecting wise).

    I agree that wearing a sexy costume may not negatively affect a girl’s development – immediately. Even though every girl likes to feel “pretty or special” when dressing up considering the negatives that were found in the research article related to continued exposure to sex messages lead me to question is it worth it? Is wearing a “sexy” Halloween costume worth decreased self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and depression.

    Teenage girls are mass consumers of media and even though gender presentation has come along way maybe it needs to become more drastic in order to reverse this norm of focusing on their looks rather than what makes them who they are. Instead of posting in magazines how to look hot this Halloween shouldn’t we encourage teenagers/ young adults to capitalize on creativity on this event, without having to add the “sexy” to the front of their costume?

    I know for myself personally and my friends we always try make our costumes from scratch and are fun or ironic with them. I think there is definitely a happy medium where you can dress to show off your features and feel “sexy or pretty”, while still having a trendy costume that doesn’t aim to demean a profession or your own self worth.

    I think it is important to continue to promote this message to girls and boys that they can dress any way they want – but to dress for themselves, not for society or what their peers are doing

    -Cassie S

  7. Nice post Paige,

    I am really glad that you chose this topic because it really does go against all the work that women are putting in to remove these negative gender stereotypes.

    I also remember growing up trying to be as creative as I could when it came to selecting my Halloween costume, but around high school i took noticed how girls would start to wear less clothing and try to appear more appealing to the eyes. I also agree with you that by labeling female costumes with “sexy” in front of the occupation is depicting women as sex symbols. Women are essentially being sexualized. I believe that movies, such as Mean Girls, are gateways for companies to sell there products because they know that young girls will watch this movie and want to be like the girls in the movie.

    Another good point you raised was about the early message of “thinness and sexuality” sent to children. The article you found about the little girl wearing the mini skirt, platform shoes, and eye shadow really surprised me. It just goes to show how easily this generation is affected by what they see and hear through the media. I feel that in circumstances like this, it is the parents job to find a balance so that their child doesn’t feel left out of the group, but at the same time is comfortable in what they are wearing.

  8. Paige,

    I thought this was a really interesting post. I would never have thought about relating something like this to leisure or to this class in general, but it really makes sense! I have to agree with everything you said, especially about how having these ‘sexy versions’ of occupations such a nurses, really affects the levels of respect shown for these professionals. I personally have 4 best friends who recently graduated from the nursing program here at UNB. Over the years they have all expressed how much they dislike the “slutty nurse” costumes that always seem to show up at halloween celebrations. They, like you said, find that those sorts of costumes paint a bad image of their profession- something they often find themselves defending anyway.

    I think another area of life that this could really creep into is the sport/recreation parts of our lives. Although there are many people out there who find nothing wrong with costumes that sexualize women, there are many people who do. These people may show little respect for the people who choose to wear and them and this in turn, could lead to uneasy feelings and poor relationships between team members and friends, on and off the field.

    Finally, I think it is important to consider the role parents play. I believe that it is the responsibility of the parent to discuss why these costumes are degrading to women and the jobs they do. If we educate our children, maybe young boys and girls will understand why it’s not okay and slowly, things may change.

    Molly M.

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