By Katie McGowan
And what costume shall the poor girl wear
To all tomorrow’s parties
A hand-me-down dress from who knows where
To all tomorrow’s parties
And where will she go and what shall she do
When midnight comes around
She’ll turn once more to sunday’s clown
And cry behind the door
The Velvet Underground, All Tomorrow’s Parties
A few Halloweens ago, I decided to make a sexy-themed costume as a feminist response to the “Sexy [Insert Profession/Object/Persona here]” costume phenomenon.
I wanted to make sure my costume took an inherently ugly thing and deem it “sexy” because Halloween says it must be so. My roommate and I decided to trek to the Garment District’s Spandex World for inspiration.
Surrounded by sequins, neons, and fringe, I made a neon hooded cape (courtesy of BurdaStyle) with a short skirt and fringe trimming, painted my face green, donned neon yellow tights, and slicked back hair. When asked what I was for Halloween, I shook my flagella tassels and smiled, “Isn’t it obvious?? I’m a sexy amoeba!”
Rewind another few years back in college, where I constructed yet another “interactive” Halloween costume for my college’s annual Immorality Halloween party.There, I donned myself in fishnets, a bra, some heels and wrapped myself in a clear bubble wrap dress. Again, everyone asked me “so… what are you?” to which I replied, “Well, I’m bubble wrap of course… and I invite you to POP me” with an inviting finger curl. Every time someone mustered up the courage to pop my bubbles, I replied with ecstatic, sexually charged joy. I went back to my dorm that evening feeling invigorated by my fun & transgressively sexual construction.
I won’t go into my costume at 3 years old where I stuffed apples in my bikini top …. but you get the idea. My costumes never felt unawarely sexy, but thoughtfully, sometimes hilariously, or even uncomfortably sexy (depending on the spectator). So it got me thinking about all the hater-ade on the sexy costume phenom? Is there something inherently wrong there – or are we just plain slut-shamey?
It’s not an easy subject to broach, as we can see from Kristen Schaal’s hilarious bit on the Daily Show last week that reminded us of the sort of consumerism, blatant misogyny, and patriarchal double standards the holiday has come to represent.
After watching this I may have to parade around wearing a pizza on my torso and say “you wanna pizza me?” for some giggles. But I digress. The sexy costume phenom is not so far off from a recent pop culture debacle – Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance and the “slut shaming” circus that ensued. Regardless of how we feel, think, or react to the Miley Cyrus performance – a conversation which I will contribute only this one paragraph – we have Miley’s performance to thank for shifting our popular paradigm panties a bit on what it means to hate on someone who publicly expresses their sexuality (among other things).
Sinead & Miley feuds aside (although that would be a great costume duo, wouldn’t it?!) perhaps what hasn’t been contributed to this discussion yet is how slut shamey we can get with the sexy costume and why that’s kind of effed. Here’s why
Don’t slut shame women who wear sexy costumes. You’re part of the problem.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the impression that the women who don the sexy costume are being slut shamed more often than having a discussion about the reason the sexy costumes exist in the first place and that just doesn’t make any sense. I suppose it’s more tangible to hold individuals, rather than institutions, responsible for their choices.
It is easier for us to target the “slut” over the years of messaging and dare I say, internalized oppression, she may have learned without question. And by directing our hater-ade at the woman in the sexy costume, we continue the cycle of slut shamery.
Perhaps we didn’t all go to a liberal arts college where we learned about the social constructs of gender, the history of sexuality, and how despite the advances in women’s careers in the last 40 years (Lean In, my friends, Lean in…) we are still reduced to objectified subjects of the male gaze. OF COURSE this is true… But, perhaps we may be donning the sexy nurse costume for a multitude of possible other reasons that may include the simple fact that was all that Ricky’s had on their racks that was within my price point and that I may not have all that much time to construct a DIY costume.
Or perhaps it just makes me feel sexy (*gasp*). I say if you’re really pissed, write Ricky’s a strongly worded letter (firstname.lastname@example.org) about manufacturing polyester mini skirts that aren’t warm & barely cover our asses. I’m not an apologist for Ricky’s, but I’m simply asking us to stop policing women for their costume choices. For Halloween this year, I’m seriously considering wearing a “Slut shaming” thought bubble over my head as my costume to illustrate my point. Which leads me to my next question.
Is Halloween really the one day we are given permission to say ‘Screw it’ I’m going to embrace my inner slut, my sexy self, my beautiful bod, [insert self-empowering positive feel good about your sexy self statement here] and take her out for a ride today”?
Regardless of how Halloween is inundated with sexy costumes for women, doesn’t the proliferation of the sexy costume tell us something? In many societies, the act of dressing in costume has long been understood as an opportunity to transgress from our traditional identities, to experiment with what we could be, to liberate ourselves from the constraints we feel on a daily basis, an expression of who we are or who we desire to be.
Pretty much any parade you go to, people are using costumes to role play, identity switch, or express themselves. With that in mind, it seems that women on Halloween are increasingly consuming “sexy” as a transgressive, role playing, identity switching, expressive act.
Does this mean that 364 days of the year we cannot express our sexuality freely, our sexuality must be put on hold, or there’s a fear in doing so? Even more frightful is the notion that 364 days of the year, a woman may not feel safe, comfortable, or confident enough to express her sexual self. It seems our society is slut-shaming us into thinking we have one day to go out and scream sex and one day only, and that day is Halloween. Interesting…
We are not little girls any more.
Seriously, if we break it down to its core root, slut shaming the sexy costume is another way of policing our clothing choices, and I would really appreciate one day of the year where my style, attire, and dress is not under surveillance. As little girls, we were told what to wear, how to behave, and what was appropriate.
Perhaps the sexy costume is a declaration of war against the constraints of our little girl selves. Granted, I don’t have a daughter and I allow my feelings to evolve over my lifetime, BUT my point is – we’re not little girls anymore – stop telling us what to wear (or not wear). It’s not OK.
And finally, have a SAFE and SEXY Halloween.
Halloween is yet another consumer-driven holiday that’s been reduced to a party and with that comes a lot of walking in the loud, crowded streets of a city or town full of drunk people who are not using their best judgement. Being able to walk the streets safely, confidently, and smartly I cannot emphasize enough. So, regardless of how you dress (and I’m sure it will be fabulous!), please check out what the amazing team over at Hollaback! suggest when you are uncomfortably being slut shamed, harassed, or provoked.
Additionally, you have Right Rides to get you out of any situation and home safely. And if you feel like getting your sexy on (in NYC) you can pick up free condoms just by visiting the NYC Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Condom Services, what I like to call Condom Tracker or visit a local Planned Parenthood. Now go out there and be safe and sexy girl!