Halloween, Freshman Year, Greek Row. My friends and I are huddled in a group on the steps of a frat house. Two boys in muscle tees stand in the doorway, arms crossed over their chests. A bass line throbs beneath the porch floorboards, making the windows quiver.
The pair of eyes scan our outfits, brows raised. I feel humiliated, waiting for judgment, suspended in Purgatory between parties. My Wednesday Adams costume seems conservative, at least compared to the group of girls in front of us—in a nod to The Purge trilogy, they wear skimpy lace lingerie and masks, carrying fake machine guns (never mind the fact that it’s a crisp forty degrees outside).
I feel exactly like Cady in Mean Girls when she walks into the party dressed as a grotesque monster bride. I would much rather be curled up on the couch with a pillowcase of candy, rewatching Hocus Pocus with my cat.
The billion-dollar Halloween costume market is dominated by sex appeal. Your options as a woman are limited to the sexy nurse-cop-witch-pirate-cheerleader-cowgirl, or something equally objectifying. This is excluding, of course, the cultural appropriation of costumes such as the sexy Geisha or Native American, which fetishize and reinforce racial stereotypes.
Most costumes feature a mini skirt, exposed cleavage, provocative mesh tops or fishnets. The intention of these clothes is to draw attention to your body, to present something alluring and seductive—they are catered to appease the heterosexual male desire, dictated by the male gaze. The costume industry is a reflection of how women are hypersexualized in media, such as the American Apparel ads that range from racy to demeaning, or in the male-centric Marvel superhero universe.
The perpetuation of sexualization teaches girls that they should equate their self-worth with being physically attractive and seek validation in the form of flattery. Media exposure has been proven to shape the perceptions of an ideal body, with research linking unrealistic media depictions of women to lower self-esteem and poor body image in young girls.
This isn’t my way of slut-shaming the Catwomen in leather bodysuits or vampire queens in rib-squeezing corsets. Plenty of women feel empowered by showing skin, they embrace their bodies and celebrate themselves. It’s an act of self-love and self-appreciation. They enjoy dolling up and strutting down the street in killer heels, without the intention to impress anyone. You should be able to dress in whatever way makes you feel comfortable, without being pressured to exploit your body or adhere to typical gender roles.
Need some original non-sexy Halloween costume ideas? We live in the Golden Age of Television, which has birthed some of the strongest female protagonists yet. Any Orange Is the New Black character will do; Game of Thrones has a plethora of badass heroines, as does The Walking Dead if you’re leaning for something more traditionally horror-oriented. There are many opportunities to be creative and have fun without exploiting yourself or someone else’s culture.