It’s only once a year that it’s acceptable to wear a French maid outfit outside your bedroom, only once a year that someone who answers to “nurse” can get away with wearing a white mini-skirt and 4-inch heels, rather than teddy bear print scrubs and a pair of clogs.
Yup, it’s Halloween again.
In case you’ve been living in a cave, women’s Halloween costumes have become highly sexualized in recent years. Even comparably tame outfits—like a cat or a witch—now involve more skin than fabric or fur. Costumes are rarely a disguise (since there is little left to the imagination), but rather a revelation. And not of the holy sort, either.
Halloween has become an opportunity—no, an excuse—to don clothing we wouldn’t touch any other day of the year. And this phenomenon isn’t limited to those who live in L.A. and party at the Playboy mansion. Why are so many women choosing to wear these ridiculously revealing get ups? I suspect that it’s related to the fact that many of us feel a bit un-sexy the rest of the year.
Halloween allows us to shed our daily identity and to play dress up, much like we did when we were children. Most of us have few occasions to dress in an alluring way; if we’re at home with the kiddos, “sexy” might mean that we’ve taken a shower and put on make up. But it’s hard to feel sexy if we never change out of sweats. Don’t I know it.
If we’re at the office we might have a better chance of feeling “put together,” of feeling at least attractive if not actually sexy. But office clothes usually mean that we’re buttoned up and tucked away, so that we look more professional than provocative.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but those of us with young children often feel we have the sex appeal of a blobfish.
We are regularly covered in spit-up, Elmer’s glue or cake batter. (Or so I hear—I don’t actually bake, so the cake batter thing is just a hypothesis. In my house, the correct answer to the question, “Where do cakes come from?” is “Whole Foods.”)
The point is that sex appeal is not something we’re very familiar with anymore. We are entirely too responsible in our daily lives to have time for something as frivolous as sex: life is a race to get the kids out the door in the morning, to clean the house, to make some money, to pick up the kids, to get them fed, washed, and emptied of waste, and finally to put them to bed. Then perhaps we have some “spare” time to catch up with our partners or to read or take a bath.
Enter Halloween and the opportunity to feel sexy and sexual for a night. Hip, hip, hurray!
In truth, I have mixed reactions to these super sexualized costumes for a number of reasons. First, it strikes me as sad that our sexuality is a commodity to be bought—something found on a hanger in the Halloween superstores which pop up once a year. I wonder if we see our sexual nature as something extrinsic and contrived, something reliant on props—costumes, lingerie, even eye liner.
My second gripe relates to the whole Madonna/Whore thing: Halloween offers us the chance to dress in a highly sexualized way and play the “bad girl” for a night without the scorn or shame that might otherwise accompany such clothing. Consider the terribly offensive “Pimps ‘n Ho’s” parties in which we have the “privilege” of dressing like a prostitute without people thinking that we actually are one. We maintain our good girl identity since we are just pretending to be like them. As good girls, we are supposed to hide our sexuality at certain times (like most of the year and certainly during daylight hours), and flaunt it with reckless abandon at others.
The rules, my friends, are complicated. Luckily, we have Ludacris, who simplifies things by reminding us to be “a lady on the street and a freak in the bed.” Thanks, Luda.
It’s also a bit disturbing that even accomplished and successful women feel pressure to be beautiful, thin and sexually alluring. No matter how much we do, how good we feel about ourselves in some respects, there is often a lingering sense that if we were prettier, thinner, etc., our life would be better. It’s easy to see why we would think this, as we are bombarded with cultural messages that our appearance is the most important and valuable thing about us. Underneath it all, women’s power is still largely related to appearance—and we either gain or lose power based on this metric.
If we’re on the winning end of things, we may find this power, well, empowering; we enjoy being able to command attention from others and to get validation about how we look. But it often comes at a daily cost (don’t even try to tell me that those 4-inch heels are comfortable) as well as an ongoing one (did you have to diet for a month to fit into that outfit?). Plus, dressing in a costume may be about getting approval from others—hearing others talk about how “hot” we look. It may have little to do with feeling that we are truly strong, sexual beings.
In other words, that sexy swashbuckler get-up may only vanquish the blobfish for a matter of hours. But I’ll bet there is a sexy, kick-ass woman deep inside each of us. Maybe she’s the one who needs to make an entrance, on All Hallow’s Eve and beyond. Wonder woman costume? No, thank you. I’ll do just fine on my own.