Horror and gore are making an exit as tiny shirts and short skirts replace the terror of Halloween.
Before TikTok labelled Halloween the “hot girl Olympics,” Mean Girls protagonist Cady Heron proclaimed Halloween marks the only day in girl world where girls can dress as “total sluts.” Her declaration encompasses how a once spooky holiday now is increasingly sexual in nature. The idea of a sexy costume has been politicized with arguments that costumes objectify women and young teens alike.
Adjunct Professor at the DAN School of Drama and Music Clelia Scala said Halloween is a good place to explore one’s sexuality, but this can be controversial when it’s a cultural expectation, especially for women.
“Halloween gives people a chance to explore other personalities or to explore aspects of their personality they might not be able to in other areas of life,” Scala said in an interview with The Journal.
Scala explained how Halloween allows people to remain anonymous while getting the chance to experience different identities. They can explore and play with pop culture within their own views of media depictions.
However, Scala used the costume selection in Spirit Halloween—a Halloween costume retailer—as an example space where the sexualization of Halloween is exclusionary. People are excluded from Halloween when they’re judged for not wearing more revealing clothing, especially since little to no fabric has become the norm.
Non-traditionally feminine clothing can still be sexy, Scala argues, and there should be a greater variety of options for women.
“My daughter—she’s 14—pointed out that if you go through the women’s section of Spirit Halloween, there are no pants, and that’s a really good point. There should be more options for people to explore various aspects of their personality, and that’s perfectly valid,” Scala said.
Scala attributes the origins of the provocative Halloween costumes to the Playboy Bunny, where thousands of people assume the image of a pink-eared rabbit. She explained the popularity of the bunny as easily mass-produced, and the success of costumes like these encourages companies to sell sex and promote images of women as sexual objects.
“I do think a lot of the manufacturers of these sexy costumes are creating stereotypes. The ‘sexy professional’ does reduce the idea of a professional woman to a sexy costume,” Scala said.
The sexy nurse or sexy schoolteacher can invalidate the significance of the profession and lead to misogyny in the workforce.
“The police officer costume for men, for instance, is a very different thing than the police officer costume in the women’s sections of Halloween stores. Yes, men get to wear pants, but men don’t have to expose a good part of their chest. It’s a very good way of reducing these important roles that women have in the workforce into sexual objects,” Scala said.
The line between sexual empowerment and the objectification of women is difficult to delineate when examining the types of harmful narratives certain costumes might perpetuate.
“I think if you want to wear a sexy cop costume and own it, you’re doing it because it makes you feel great and empowered. The line is if people feel they have to wear these costumes to fit into a social norm to be considered attractive by others,” Scala said.
She emphasized the importance of ensuring societal pressures don’t force people to wear costumes that make them uncomfortable or assume identities they don’t feel are right to explore, simply because they feel they must.
She hopes there’s a greater diversity in the types of costumes available this year.
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