From ghosts and goblins to sexy ketchup bottles
Freya Wasteneys // Contributor
Hark! ‘Tis soon the season to binge-drink, stuff our faces with candy, and wear whatever the hell we want and call it a costume. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.
These days, the options for women’s Halloween costumes are positively staggering. You have everything from sexy cat (classic), to sexy crayon (weird) to choose from. Or, if you really want to push the consumerist envelope, how about a “sexy Ebola nurse” costume? It’s different, edgy, certainly checks the “scary” box, and for just $59.99, it could be yours to flaunt.
According to the costume industry, there is only one way to dress up for Halloween, and it involves showing as much skin as possible. At a certain point we have to question where the line gets drawn between current, sexy and downright distasteful.
Halloween wasn’t always like this.
As a rogue holiday, one that isn’t attached to a particular person or event, Halloween has changed dramatically with the times.
While it’s origins date back 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, Halloween wasn’t even closely recognizable to what it is today until the 19th century. During this time in Scotland and Ireland, children would go house-to-house in a “guise” collecting coins, giving rise to what we now call “trick-or-treating.”
Yet now it has somehow become the one time of year it is socially acceptable to remove our clothes and don costumes with minimal fabric, usually as the “sexy” version of, well, anything.
According to historian Lesley Bannatyne, the emergence of sexy dress didn’t start until a Halloween parade in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1973. The event was held in a prominent gay district, and it became known for it’s rebellious drag costumes. As the event became more well known, retailers began to capitalize on the idea, and thus began the sexification of Halloween.
There are two trains of thought on the sexy Halloween costume that prevail: on the one hand, women should be able to wear whatever they like (no questions asked). On the other hand – are we comfortable? Do we really feel empowered? The things women put themselves through to remind the world of their sexiness often involves the risk of hypothermia and more than a little discomfort (ahem – trying to pee in a skin tight body-suit that took you an hour to get on).
According to the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, sexualization occurs “if someone’s value is based on her sexual appeal,” and “If someone is considered sexy only if she achieves a narrowly defined rigid standard of physical attractiveness.”
In a study conducted in 2016, Sharron Lennon addressed issues such as sexualization and self-objectification. According to Lennon, the issue becomes when people’s “self-perceptions and perceptions of others” are influenced, leading to consequences such as “continual body and appearance monitoring.”
The key is to separate feeling sexy from being sexualized. We need to ask who we are wearing these costumes for and why. If the goal is to feel comfortable in our own skin and celebrate our sexuality, then going to a party as a “sexy bad habit nun” or a “sexy bottle of ketchup” is an odd way of achieving this.
By limiting our sexuality to one night of the year (a night when we are pretending to be anything other than ourselves) we seem to just reinforce the idea that being sexual is only okay in this context, and continue the fetishization of showing a little skin.