Costume Crisis: A Halloween Catch-22

Rachel Chapman ’18

Ostensibly, Halloween marks the beginning of Allhallowtide, a three-day Christian holiday remembering the departed souls of past believers. However, contemporary celebration of Halloween is better defined by Regina George in a lingerie bunny costume. Mean Girls proclaims, “In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” While women may refrain from blatant vocal attacks against one another, the self-inflicted judgment and unspoken disdain are equally harmful.

To start, take a look at the Mean Girls leading ladies: thin, well-proportioned, perfect hair, and flawless skin. Even when Regina is upset about gaining weight, she is still sizes below the national average for women. This unattainable Hollywood beauty is particularly apparent as October 31st approaches. Since girls and young women struggle with comparing themselves to media darlings throughout the year, Halloween only amplifies this troubling reality by pushing women to actually mirror celebrities for one night.

There is a clear expectation for women to bare it all on Hallow’s Eve, a social pressure originating from the increasingly sexual portrayals of female comic book and TV show characters over the past few decades. These sexed-up depictions range from modified classic heroes like Super Woman to miniskirt-clad television idols like Gossip Girl’s Serena Van der Woodsen. Risque costumes find inspiration in even absolutely unsexy characters, such as “Slutty Spongebob” and “Sexy Steve Jobs.” The oppressive number of suggestive costumes is a misogynistic aspect of Halloween that marginalizes women who prefer not to wear revealing clothing.

For any woman who has strolled through a Halloween store, there is an obvious dichotomy between “regular” costumes and “plus size” costumes. The regular costumes often compose two or three aisles, while plus size costumes may receive half an aisle or less. Regular costumes come in a single size – small/medium – and plus size costumes similarly come in a single size – large/extra-large. Regular costumes not only have more options, but also have more revealing options than their plus size counterparts. A clear ideology is created by this segregation: 1) If you are not a size small/medium then you are abnormal, 2) If you are not a size small/medium you should not wear tight or exposing clothing, and 3) You should aim to be a size small/medium because then you have more options and are more desirable. This philosophy is emotionally harmful, promotes the view that a woman’s worth is determined by her appearance, and encourages unhealthy behaviors such as disordered eating.

Lastly, the judgment felt on Halloween is not only self-inflicted. After talking to classmates and friends, it is clear to me that choosing to wear a sexy costume comes with a set of assumptions from men and women alike. Similarly, choosing not to wear a sexy costume is accompanied by particular commentary. The costume crisis is a double-edged dilemma, which shines a light on a larger issue: as a woman, it is still frowned upon to present oneself as a sexual being, even if there is pressure to do so from men.

Despite the negativity surrounding sexuality, body image, and female costumes, all the ladies I talked to this week are still excited to don costumes and enjoy the evening. At the end of the day, what we wear is our choice and our choice alone, and that decision should be made keeping our own interests in mind.

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