Why "Sexy" Halloween Costumes Aren't Harmless

It’s not a secret that women’s Halloween costumes are sexualized. It's even less of a secret that they're a product of a culture that values women only if they are there for male consumption. For years there have been a thousand think pieces on this topic, and recently the debate was reignited with the sexy Handmaid’s Tale Halloween costume that was recently taken down from Yandy. It seems obvious that it’s in poor taste to have a “sexy” Handmaid’s Tale costume, as anyone who’s even so much as read the synopsis to the novel turned  TV series could tell you that the plot deals with sexual violence against women.

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But there are layers to this sexualization of Halloween costumes for women, and it starts early. In a popular Tumblr post that originated in 2014, the user highlights just how early sexualization starts for women by comparing costumes targeted at “girls” and at “tweens.” While the girl costumes are appropriately designed for a child, the tween costumes are significantly shorter, with girls in heels. It should go without saying that it is not the fault of the girl’s wearing the costumes that this sexualization exists, but rather a culture that tells us this sexualization is okay. It’s not surprising that when a girl enters the Halloween store and sees only sexualized options, she will feel as if being a girl means having to dress in a way that shows as much skin as possible.

There have also been women who believe that these costumes are empowering. To women who claim that these costumes exist to empower women, I would say that individual choices to display sexuality do not erase the harmful reality that women are not given the options for Halloween costumes that men are. In a world where women in media are still reduced to degrading stereotypes, these costumes cause harm that cannot be reversed by one woman enjoying wearing them. 

Not to mention that many of these Halloween costumes are culturally appropriative. While Yandy did eventually take down the Handmaiden costume, they did not take down the sexualized “Native American” Halloween costume despite protests. These costumes are particularly harmful due to the way women within native cultures have historically been demeaned and objectified by white people. Yandy’s refusal to take down these costumes while swiftly taking down the Handmaid costume shows that the concerns of women of color are still ignored in these debates over sexualized costumes for women.

Clearly, we have a long way to go before companies stop treating women as mere sex objects, but it is important to keep speaking out when we notice these injustices. When you see a sexualized Halloween costume for women, ask yourself if men would wear the same costume and if there are better options for women. Then ask yourself what kind of message the costume company is trying to send with this costume. Are they simply profiting off of misogynistic stereotypes? Ultimately the choice on Halloween is yours, but we can’t keep ignoring the way women are portrayed in these costumes.