This past Halloween it seemed as if there were a plethora of opinion pieces out there regarding overly sexy Halloween costumes, especially overly sexy costumes meant for pre-teen and teen girls. First, it’s important to realize that there are two issues here: 1) the hypersexualization of the under-18 crowd, especially girls and young women and 2) the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of Halloween costumes in general.
Let’s take hypersexualization first. At a very basic level, “hypersexualization” means encouraging kids to demonstrate an adult sexuality before they are even remotely ready for it. This isn’t a new problem. About ten years ago, PBS Frontline produced a program called “The Merchants of Cool” which documented how advertisers and manufacturers sought to pry teens and pre-teens loose from their spending money by selling them on two icons–the “midriff” and the “mook”. The “midriff” is marketed to girls and, as you might imagine, promotes acting and dressing in a highly sexualized manner. The “mook” is marketed to boys and promotes and acting and dressing in a highly aggressive and violent manner.
The most disturbing part of this program for me was how the push to promote products as “cool” created a vicious feedback loop. As the new “true cool” forms of fashion, music, and other popular culture items were co-opted by the establishment, kids reacted by going even farther becoming more violent, more extreme, more anti-social. As the author points out in a separate interview, kids don’t need to have themselves reflected back to them. What they need and crave are positive adult role models. However, since the most persuasive adults in their lives are busy trying to get their money that doesn’t happen.
People often seem more concerned about the “midriffs” than the “mooks”. Whether this is because boys are expected to be aggressive and anti-social or whether it is because girls and women are supposed to be “controlled”, especially where their sexuality is concerned, it’s hard to tell. I find both images equally disturbing because I feel that these images keep girls and boys from growing into healthy adults.
So what can we do about hypersexuality/hyperviolence on a personal level? Honestly, one of the most important things we can do is teach young men and women how to sew and craft. When they are able to create their own fashions, what they produce becomes a reflection of who they truly are and not something that they have consumed because it’s marketed as “cool”. They become artists and therefore producers as opposed to consumers. I strongly encourage all potential teachers out there to make a particular effort to include boys and young men in these sewing/crafting endeavors and not to assume that they wouldn’t want to do it because they’re guys. If they can paint designs on a gaming figurine, they can paint designs on their blue jeans.
So what about inappropriate Halloween costumes? First, “inappropriate” is a difficult thing to define. When we are talking about kids younger than eighteen, “inappropriate” usually means whatever disturbs their parents and what that is exactly varies from parent to parent. I remember one girlfriend of mine who objected to her daughter going out for Halloween dressed as a dark angel–black wings and a black halo. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t get it either. The girl’s sister who wore the more conventional white halo and white wings got the thumbs up.
When it comes to the over-eighteen crowd, “inappropriateness” takes different forms. For women, “inappropriate” usually means dressing in highly sexual, boudoir costumes that belong in the bedroom and not on the street. The usual lame excuse is that Halloween is a time for women to explore their wild, sexual side without consequences. To which I say, “gimme a break.”
When a young woman is wearing a Little Bo-Peep costume cut up to her backside and down to her navel, she isn’t embodying any kind of female power whatsoever. All she is doing is catering to MALE fantasies about what women should be. In fact, it’s worse than that–she is buying into what MARKETERS say men can and should want in their sexual fantasies.
True sexiness comes from within and it is a powerful combination of self-confidence and personality. Without those qualities, a mannequin might as well wear the costume.
Men dominate the other category of inappropriateness–the offensive costume. The offensive costume is designed to appall, not through blood or gore, but through a total lack of good taste. Quick field guide: guy dressed as zombie with realistic rotting flesh–cool. Guy dressed as flasher with trenchcoat and oversized stuffed phallus–offensive. If other people haven’t curled their lips or thrown up a hand to shield their eyes, the offensive costumer doesn’t consider that he has done his job. Incidentally, that flasher costume was old when I was in school. Get something new, guys.
Interestingly enough, both kinds of inappropriate costumes are designed to gain the attention of others. As my public relations teacher once said, you can get publicity by burning a cross, but it’s not going to be the kind of publicity you’ll like. People who wear too sexy or offensive costumes seem to not understand or not care about the difference between negative and positive attention. And I think that’s sad because it speaks to their own lack of self-confidence.