Are sexy halloween costumes really empowering?

By Dylan Abbott / Staff Writer

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As my first American Halloween approaches, I am struck by the dedication and enthusiasm given to this festivity.

Pumpkins have invaded all walks of life. Fake cobwebs hang in places where fake cobwebs rarely hang. Comical skulls and ghosts are decoratively scattered across homes and shops. I have never before witnessed such commitment to, and money spent on, what I’d always seen as an evening of tactical sweet-begging.

But one aspect of this holiday prevalent both here in the U.S. and in my home country of Great Britain is the adoption and consequential obsession with the “sexy” side of Halloween. More specifically, the ability for a number of young women to transform the most innocuous of characters or creatures into something far more sexually explicit. For one thing, I’ve yet to find a hospital where the nurses are wearing stockings and high heels.

The proliferation of scantily-clad media icons in recent years has undoubtedly allowed such trends to take off. With TV ads and music videos constantly capitalizing on the concept that “sex sells,” it’s no wonder that such ideas have seeped into everyday culture.

Yet Halloween also represents an occasion to ignore the stuffy conventions of clothing and to feel liberated in how we present ourselves. This said, such activities run the risk of provoking backlash and criticism, most notably in the form of “slut-shaming” — a trending social phenomenon that is set on humiliating those who dress and behave in sexually aberrant ways.

In the last few months, no one has personified this issue more so than Miley Cyrus. The amount of vilification her sexualized antics have incurred would suggest a moral victory on the part of those who slut-shame. Yet a Google Shopping poll uncovered that Cyrus was, in fact, the most popular inspiration for women’s costumes this Halloween.

Predictably, a number of Miley Cyrus replicas will be braving the cold come Oct. 31st. Does this indicate, then, that not so many of us truly despise the controversial singer? Or is it another form of parody, an ironic portrayal of the sexually deviant media culture?

When speaking with Alicia Williamson, part of the women’s studies faculty here at Pitt, she suggested that perhaps “people need Halloween to feel ‘authorized’ to express their sexuality in ways that might not otherwise be deemed socially acceptable.”

With this in mind, Halloween should provide us with an insight into the secret yearnings of how we really want to behave, but are always too afraid to act out in fear of judgement. However, taking into consideration the media’s influence upon our choices — interestingly Google suggested that “Breaking Bad” will be the most popular adult costume overall this year — are we really expressing an innate desire, or is it all a ploy for us to spend more money on the latest trend? Has sexual liberation merely become another marketable concept that all of us young, impressionable types will blindly buy into?

Williamson pointed out that Miley Cyrus’ performance and look was “produced by a team that successfully upped her market value.” Consequently, companies are able to make a hefty profit off her popularity, especially at this time of year. This is no surprise, given that a National Retail Federation survey uncovered that Americans spent over $2.6 billion on costumes alone last Halloween. Furthermore, Williamson went on to explain that this “invites the consumer to buy into something that produces sexuality as a commodity.”

Here, then, is the issue: The way we present ourselves sexually has become less of a reaction to suppressed desires, but more a way of subscribing to commodified trends.

The debacle that is “slutty” Halloween costumes presents a certain tension in opinion. On one side we have the media and profit-making organizations luring us into a false sense of “sticking it to the man,” when really it’s the man who’s selling it to us.

On the other side, we have the conservative “slut-shamers” who are still holding on to long-dated ideas of what it is to be a righteous human being. Consequently, those who don’t adhere to such conventions by donning something a little more revealing this Halloween may become subject to derogation and ostracism.

Then there are those of us who just want to broach the subject of sexuality with a slice of honesty and sincerity.

What I’ve come to accept and relish is the way in which Halloween provides an opportunity to essentially wear whatever you want — preferably with a splattering of fake blood.

But perhaps we should be more vigilant that our costumes are truly what we want and not what society or profit-based corporations are telling us we want.

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