The Number One Costume You’ll See this Halloween: Objectified Female // Meghann Soby
** Look here to see more costumes that get progressively more “sexy.”
It’s that time of year again; as the leaves start changing color and there’s pumpkin spice everything, the feeling that Halloween is lurking just around the corner emerges as a reality. Halloween is a fun holiday for pretty much any age group. Kids can go trick or treating, and adults can dress up for a spooky night of themed treats. Halloween is an opportunity to be someone – or something--- you aren’t, just for one night. Or so it seems.
For girls and women, however, Halloween may not be such a great treat. We are forced into a socially constructed box that involves the increasing sexualization of Halloween Costumes as we age. We may not even realize that this is happening, but society has developed the notion of an “ideal” woman. This woman is considered “sexy” or attractive only if she is scantily clad, or wearing form fitting “feminine” attire. The problem here is not only that not all women fit into this box, or even want to, but also that such ideals pose issues for the body image and self-esteem of young and adolescent girls, and pose larger issues for the female population as a whole.
Women get bombarded with messages regarding their bodies each day by the media, their peers, and even their families. The conscious and unconscious messages tell them how their bodies should look, and increasingly how they should see their own bodies. These messages usually emphasize the “thin ideal” and often-times place women in objectifying situations (think Victoria’s Secret), reducing them to mere objects to be “admired”.
Young girls are extremely impressionable, taking in everything around them, and internalizing societal concepts. When the television shows they watch, the music they listen to, and the advertisements they see showcase these thin, photo-shopped women, they begin to believe that this is how they are supposed to look. Throughout history women have always been expected to look a certain way, however, the over-sexualization of women has increased over the years, and society takes every opportunity to place women in situations in which to scrutinize their bodies. Throw a holiday like Halloween into the mix, and instead of a bumblebee you have a bumble bee wearing hardly any clothing, and it just gets worse as a woman ages (see photo). In this photo, you can see that as the girl becomes a woman the sexualization of the bumble bee costume increases dramatically. This sexualization becomes internalized and is consistently present throughout the woman’s life, and further manifests itself in other choices of Halloween costume. Sexualized costumes emphasize how a woman should look and how she should view herself, undermine childhood innocence, and ultimately depict an exaggerated feminine ideal that women should strive to achieve.
Further, many costumes place women in objectifying situations. I’ve seen a few articles floating around about fun “couple costumes” and couldn’t help but notice that half the time the man was an actual human, and the woman was the object belonging to his character (for example Dr. Who and his Tardis, Birthday boy and Piñata, Most Interesting Man and Dos Equis bottle, Just to name a few) (See the Huffington Post Article below). These “fun” couple costumes ultimately perpetuate the notion that women are objects to be owned by men. In these situations, women are reduced to mere accessories, only existing to satisfy the male who owns them. If this is what young girls are seeing, they are going to believe that this “sexy object” is what they should aspire to be. It makes me sick. I am unsettled by the fact that any female should feel that she must satisfy a male by looking and acting a certain way. This issue also perpetuates a heteronormative society, and in the end everyone pays the price. Men and women are expected to be “pairs,” women are expected to be owned by men, fitting a specific level of attractiveness, and men are expected to take ownership and be strong and unemotional.
Women already feel so much societal pressure each day to fit an ideal. Such pressure is damaging to female body image, especially for girls going through puberty, and sexualized Halloween costumes shouldn’t add to the problem. A great deal of research has shown that the exposure females have to hyper-sexualized, thin images (of any kind, not just through Halloween costumes), are indicative of increased body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, disordered eating behaviors, and depression. Exposing females at young ages, and especially adolescence, to these hyper-sexualized images can cause many negative consequences regarding their body image and self-esteem. Additionally, as females are exposed to these images, and they become internalized, they become extremely dissatisfied if they cannot meet the proposed societal “ideal,” thus leading to these negative consequences.
I worry so much for younger generations, as it seems that girls are being targeted at younger and younger ages to fit this “feminine sexy” mold. Many of the television shows they watch, the advertisements they see, and some of the role models they have through the media perpetuate this sexualized objectified ideal female. Halloween costume advertisements only add to the problem. A young girl dressing up as a pumpkin once meant a round pumpkin shaped object that the child popped over their head. Now this means a form fitting dress, tights, and an adult hairstyle.
It would be difficult to stop the media from portraying these ideals, but I hope that alternative platforms emerge that promote body positivity and gender non-conformity to teach younger generations that they do not need to fit this sexually-objectified-feminine mold. I also hope parents and mentors foster positive ideals in their young girls, and teach them that it is okay not to fit such a stereotype. This piece hasn’t even touched on the mold men are expected to fit into, and I fully acknowledge that they too face body image disturbances, but I wanted to focus on women because much of my undergraduate research has focused on women’s body image, and I have also felt the effects of the “thin-ideal” expectation.
Ultimately, Halloween should be fun, and should not contribute to the development of body image issues, or gender expectations in young females, or males for that matter. Women should not be developing body image disturbances, or self-esteem issues because society has told them to look and act a certain way; they should have the freedom to look and act how they please. If they want to be a sexy bumblebee, so be it, but only because they wish to do so, not because society has taught them they should.
Huffington Post Article:
Borenson, K. (2015). 20 couples Halloween costumes you won’t roll your eyes at. Huffington Post, Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/19-couples-halloween-costumes-you-wont-roll-your-eyes-at_5605980fe4b0af3706dc360e