Costumes, Halloween, and ‘Sexiness’

Halloween. It seems that every year, we’re talking about the same things–cultural appropriation and sexist costume choices. This year is no different.

Recently, Buzzfeed published a post titled “21 ‘Sexy’ Halloween Costumes That Should Never Have Been Made.” The compiled costumes run the gamut from sexy bacon to a sexy shower to a sexy environmentalist to sexy Chinese takeout. It’s all quite ridiculous (and the last one falls into the ‘racist’/’cultural appropriation’ category, as on the website, the costume is tagged under ‘geisha costumes’ but I digress).

Sometimes I wonder why this conversation happens every year and nothing seems to change, but clearly people are still buying the costumes, whether it’s to satirize them or because they actually find them to be cute and clever.

Going back to The Codes of Gender, aside from the costumes themselves, the poses of the women are very similar to those that Sut Jhally describes in the film. The poses of the women are all very open–many of them have their arms out to their sides or up in the air. In the case of the sexy hamburger, her pose very much seems to suggest the idea that “if you want it, come get it.” Most of the women are smiling, overly happy to be wearing these costumes. The women who do not smile wear suggestive expressions (fingers in mouths or a sultry stare, with the exception of the sexy pig. Her expression isn’t visible). These stand in off-kilter poses, many of which seem unnatural, with their knees slightly bent.

These costumes are for women, but are the images truly selling to women? Or is it more like the idea of replacement–“if you buy this, you can look like me”?

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7 thoughts on “Costumes, Halloween, and ‘Sexiness’

  1. Wow, #18 is terrifying? Also, it really reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode “The Eye of the Beholder”–not sure if you have seen it, but it’s about a woman who keeps getting plastic surgery to become beautiful by her society’s standards, pretty much working just to look like that sexy pig.

  2. “Any costume that derives from anything meant for children is too wrong. What’s next? sexy Playskool toys that can be used as sex toys? Get yourself together America!”

    This reminds me of the Walkerdine & Wade articles we read a couple weeks back, about childrens’ erotic desire and the infantilization of women. The ideology of asexual childhood innocence is powerful. I admit, I definitely felt myself getting a little uncomfortable scrolling through the sexy Sesame Street costumes – because my childhood! – and only on the second scroll-through did I even stop to think, “wow this is what Wade was talking about, and it’s messed up”.

    I also wonder what it is about costuming that invokes the drive toward overt eroticization. Is it because we as a society feel ashamed of our sexuality, and need some sort of “masking” (i.e. costume) to legitimize acting on those desires?

    And why eroticize purportedly “non-sexual” things, e.g. Sesame Street or bacon? Don’t quote me on this but I think Freud would say to consider boundaries of the sexual/non-sexual speaks to repression. And to denote childhood as a pure/innocent/asexual existence doesn’t allow for children to express their agency through their own ways of negotiating sexuality. Or maybe it’s that we were so asexualized through childhood that we find the repressed desires returning in contorted forms as “sexy Big Bird”.

  3. Your discussion of the women’s “off-kilter poses” reminded me of the cover of the September issue of Cosmo that I noticed today. In the photo, Nina Dobrev is bending over and holding her shoe, while lifting her foot out of the shoe so her weight is fully on her toes (in her high heel!). The pose looks extremely awkward and precarious. It definitely supports what Sut Jhally says about women as depicted as vulnerable and defenseless.

  4. It’s also really interesting to consider the flip side of this: halloween costumes and the idea of a monstrous femininity,particularly when it comes to dressing up a ‘fat woman’. Shakesville has a great post on this: http://www.shakesville.com/2013/10/my-identity-isnt-your-costume.html#more

    Fat costumes seem to be the other side to this equation: whereas Jhully makes the point that depictions of hyper sexualized women exist for male desire, it seems these bodies, which have been desexed and made the object of derision, exist in this context purely as figures of fun. It’s also worth noticing that the majority of models of these female fat suits are men.

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