Halloween Costumes: Sexy or Just Slutty?

“Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it”, says Cady, Lindsay Lohan’s character in “Mean Girls.”

And it’s true. So why do girls dress like “sluts” on Halloween? And why do a lot of people bash them for doing so?

First of all, Halloween is the one time a year we can be someone or something we are not, which is exciting.  We can dress up and be our favorite super heroes, celebrities, inanimate objects, classic horror monsters; anything we want.

So when a girl dresses sexy on Halloween, it probably means she does not go to lecture or the grocery store like that, but is embracing this foundation of Halloween: to be what we are not for one night.

Sexy cop. Sexy firefighter. Sexy Disney princess. Sexy Mario Brothers. Just add sexy in front of anything, and you’ve got the majority of your female Halloween costumes any year.

But where is the point when sexy, becomes slutty?

The point when we start judging and slut-shaming girls.

The way society reflects its politics on women’s bodies usually prevents women from dressing sexy or scandalously the majority of the time, so Halloween is that small window of opportunity for it to be okay for women to break free of these standards and politics that are also so heavily enforced on us, by some unknown societal, politically correct force.

If a girl wants to dress sexy in general, that is her body and her prerogative, so why do we have such strict standards of body politics that we reflect on women and use to restrain them?

If we want to use the word slut, we have to realize that in the context that we ourselves use it, it has more to do with actions, and nothing to do with clothing.  And even then, we use the word “slut” to control a woman’s sexuality.  It reflects the double standard that men can sleep with how ever many people they want and not be tainted or lose worth but rather gain praise.  And yet when a female is very sexual, she loses value, to the point where we shame her, calling her a “slut.”

But… she obviously does not respect herself or her body? Right?

Wrong.

Your respect for her is completely separate from the respect she has for herself.

It is one thing to not be that kind of girl on Halloween, or even disagree with her choice (which is perfectly fine), but it’s another to pass judgment and perpetuate slut-shaming, especially when it happens so frequently from one female to another.

So this Halloween, rather than slut-shaming, let’s just embrace the freedom this holiday represents: to dress however we want for a couple nights and not be judged or pass judgment on anyone no matter how sexy, or stupid, or funny their costumes are.

Let’s embrace those who feel sexy and confident enough to wear whatever the hell they want this Halloween.

So when you see someone this weekend working a sexy crayon costume, try high-fiving that person; not bashing them.

Happy Halloween!

Photo credit: Jemingway/Flickr.

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20 Comments

  1. I LOVE this article. I love wearing sexy Halloween costumes(especially fairy tale characters) and I believe this article vindicates girls who are simply expressing themselves on Halloween. Just because we are sexy, doesn’t mean we are “slutty!” For years, I’ve worn sexy versions of classic Halloween costumes and realize that they are unnecessarily stigmatized.

    Thanks for the article-I hope we can finally eradicate slut shaming on this fun holiday!

  2. holy crap. i was gonna make a whole facebook status rant but you’ve articulated my feelings much better than i could. i’m gon’ quote you

  3. The way to address the double standard is by calling men out on their promiscuity as well, not by trying to enable girls to “catch up” to men’s lack of sexual morality. The freedom to exercise self-control is a greater and more productive freedom than being able to sleep with as many men as one’s body desires and being able to walk around scantily-clad in a way that, inadvertently or not, is sure to attract the very men whose behavior you contrast with your own.

  4. I am a good looking, slim woman and I have a problem with women dressing sexy/slutty for Halloween. Why does a woman want to lower herself to a sex object even if it is “just for dress up”. Doesn’t make sense! I have class and feel sexy without having to show off my “goods”. Just shows that a lot of girls/women have low self esteem and are just perpetuating the problematic views that men have about us already! You can be beautiful without showing a ton of skin!

  5. There is a point when ‘sexy’ or ‘stunning’ becomes ‘slutty’ or ‘trashy.’ You seem them every Halloween. Not the thigh high clad Alice in Wonderland or even the alluring fish-net Vampiress . I’m talking about the girls that take a tu-tu that barely covers their but with some tiny shorts underneath and a to small tank-top with heels way to high and a garter belt. The ‘Halloween’ part? Add some cheap butterfly wings from Walmart. What is ‘powering’ about that? Your article does not clearly separate the differences from a classy lady trying to look pretty to a prostitute wanting some cash. Try addressing ALL sides of something before you criticize us on ‘bashing’ someone for their utterly disgusting costume. Oh, and also don’t you realize how many pre-teens you encouraged by them reading this? 11-14 year old’s do not need to be strutting their non-existent stuff!

  6. Since when is it anybody’s business what another person wears? As long as the appropriate bits are covered while in public, the law gives us the right to wear whatever we damn please. If a girl wants to wear that slutty pirate costume, that’s her choice. Your judgement is the problem, not her.

  7. Yamuna,

    People’s outfits become our business when we see that such trends have the potential to harm or advance the realization of the feminist goal. This article was written specifically because people’s outfits are significant to certain feminist thinkers, regardless of whether we ultimately decide ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on the slutty outfits.

    Sure, you can go about life with the mentality that no one should have anything to say about what anyone else does (except for when the law is involved). But then you’re removing yourself from a community whose needs are not yet protected by the law. Thus, you are preserving the status quo.

    I don’t know if this means anything to you, but I had assumed, based on the fact that you’re on this blog, that you were a feminist. Pardon my mistake.

    Jacob

  8. Jacob,

    Ouch. I didn’t realize I would have to relinquish my title as a feminist over my opinion on clothing.

    Here’s the problem: you don’t advance the feminist movement by telling women what to do. The whole reason feminism is necessary is exactly that–men (and women) telling women to do things they don’t want to do.

    No, women’s needs are not completely protected by the law. So what’s your solution? Women need to cover their bodies in fear? We need to accept the idea that we can’t be safe if we’re dressed in a certain way? Forgive me, but that’s not enough.

    You mentioned the status quo, but you forgot a big part of it–the idea that scantily-dressed women are immoral, unintelligent, and “trashy.” Any time a woman shows evidence that she has a sex life, she’s doing something wrong. If we truly want to change the status quo, the demonization of women’s sexuality is something we can’t ignore.

    Yamuna

  9. Yamuna,

    This robust exchange inspires me.

    It wasn’t your opinion on clothing that contradicts your feminism. It was your lack of opinion.

    Here’s my problem: This whole issue is a distraction. We have to stop thinking that every call to “cover up” is an attack on female independence and female sexuality. Slutty clothing is deleterious to society, or at least our modern conception of what society should be, whether the proprietor of such clothing is a female or male. It’s true that men get away with more. That’s an issue that we as feminists must address.

    That’s the first point. We must address it. This means not throwing up our hands and proclaiming, “Who cares what women wear!” We all care what women wear. And we care what men wear, too.

    And that’s my second point. The solution to the disproportionate permissibility of male sexuality is not the pornographic celebration of female sexuality. I’ve heard the argument a lot, most notably from deluded adult film actresses who think that they are doing womankind a favor through their work. It’s false. The response to this disproportionality must be a call for men to get their act together – to be allies in the feminist mission through their own behavior and to compromise with the feminist worldview.

    If you’ve taken Sociology 1, you’ll know that the image of the man whose behavior is unconditionally acceptable by mere virtue of his maleness is as socially contrived as that of the stereotypically slutty girl. This should give us hope that such images can changed on a grand scale. That’s truly what we need.

    Peace. Love. Fem.

  10. Jacob, my problem with your argument is that you’re taking for granted that men face the same sorts of moral judgments based on what they wear as women do. I don’t agree. I’ve never heard anyone brand a man a “slut” or make assumptions about/judgments of his supposed sexual promiscuity based on what he’s wearing. If it does happen, which I’m not denying, it’s certainly not on a regular basis, as is the case with women.

    As for the post itself and the issues it addresses, my feelings towards sexy Halloween costumes are mixed. I think Monique makes some really strong arguments and I completely agree that women shouldn’t feel limited in expressing themselves and having fun out of fear of slut shaming. At the same time I don’t know that dressing in a sexy way is all that politically incorrect. In pop culture, which I concede probably does not accurately represent the day to day lives of real women, “sexy” is often all a woman is allowed to be. Women are so often reduced to being appealing objects of the male gaze, so even though it shouldn’t be the case, any agency in the decision to dress in a sexy manner is taken from a woman because she has no voice. I think it’s awesome for women to own their sexuality and I fully support that, but I do worry about younger girls and young women who feel pressured to dress sexily because their peers are and they believe it’s expected of them, because that is not at all empowering. In my opinion, whether a sexy costume is empowering or degrading depends entirely on who’s wearing it and how she feels in it.

  11. I’m glad you’re inspired, and in all honesty, I’m fascinated by this as well.

    However, I don’t really think we’re talking about the same thing. At least, we’re relating the same thing to completely different things.

    I believe in sex-positivity. From what I can gather, you’re coming from a different position. You’re saying that men should tone down the sluttiness as well, and frankly, I don’t have a problem with men being promiscuous either.

    Again, I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what another person does with their body. I’m not advocating “pornographic celebration” of anybody’s sexuality, just respect for other people’s choices regarding their bodies and their appearances.

    We don’t live in a world where men and women are able to approach sexuality the same way. The first step to getting there, in my view, is in destigmatizing sex in general and leaving bodily decisions up to each individual.

    That’s where I’m coming from. Just to clarify.

  12. I find this comment rather disrespectful. Just because a woman “wants to show off her goods” (as you put it)does NOT mean she has low self-esteem or disrespects herself; that is an impingement of judgment on someone else(that you may not even know) who simply may want to have fun for one night on Halloween without being judged. A lot of these girls also have “class” just like you, and also love themselves for who they are, have confidence, and respect for their bodies. Of course, you are entitled to your own opinion, but passing judgment such as stating a girl who wears a sexy costume suffers from low self-esteem and is intentionally objectifying herself isn’t exactly helpful to the feminist movement. In fact, you are adopting a “holier than thou” attitude towards other women. Just because you don’t wear these costumes doesn’t make you more beautiful, desirable, more of a woman, or a better feminist. It can also be vice versa. Women who dress up in this manner also aren’t more beautiful /a better feminist than you. I am also slim and attractive and dressed up as Lady Gaga in a red leotard sans pants. I had a lot of fun, received many compliments, and no one called me a slut or accused me of suffering from low self-esteem. Despite the costume, I am still a feminist, still a classy, educated woman, and still remain confident in my beauty and worth as a woman.

    I think this article is a good step towards eradicating slut-shaming and passing judgment on other women; it is in fact one of my favorite Fem pieces and I look forward to reading more of your work, Monique.

  13. I find this comment rather disrespectful. Just because a woman “wants to show off her goods” (as you put it)does NOT mean she has low self-esteem or disrespects herself; that is an impingement of judgment on someone else(that you may not even know) who simply may want to have fun for one night on Halloween without being judged. A lot of these girls also have “class” just like you, and also love themselves for who they are, have confidence, and respect for their bodies. Of course, you are entitled to your own opinion, but passing judgment such as stating a girl who wears a sexy costume suffers from low self-esteem and is intentionally objectifying herself isn’t exactly helpful to the feminist movement. In fact, you are adopting a “holier than thou” attitude towards other women. Just because you don’t wear these costumes doesn’t make you more beautiful, desirable, more of a woman, or a better feminist. It can also be vice versa. Women who dress up in this manner also aren’t more beautiful /a better feminist than you. I am also slim and attractive and dressed up as Lady Gaga in a red leotard sans pants. I had a lot of fun, received many compliments, and no one called me a slut or accused me of suffering from low self-esteem. Despite the costume, I am still a feminist, still a classy, educated woman, and still remain confident in my beauty and worth as a woman.

    I think this article is a good step towards eradicating slut-shaming and passing judgment on other women; it is in fact one of my favorite Fem pieces and I look forward to reading more of your work, Monique.

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