Girls on Film: It's time to push back against 'sexy' costumes for girls
There's never been a better time to celebrate Halloween. The internet has allowed eager costume-makers to share their ideas and DIY instructions with the rest of the world, from the horns of Maleficent to the bloody saw blades of Cabin in the Woods' Fornicus. The meteoric rise of geek culture had made the mix even sweeter, with a never-ending stream of cosplayers displaying impressive, custom ensembles, from transformable Transformers costumes to Ghostbusters fully equipped to bust ghosts.
Unfortunately, those costumes are only available to those with the time and skill to make them. Hit any of the shops that pop up every year to sell mass-produced costumes, and the conceit flips. It is no longer about embodying a character. It's about being sexy.
This isn't just sexiness inherent to a costume — Marilyn Monroe struggling to keep her skirt down when she walks over a sidewalk grate, or the blue-skinned no-clothes look of X-Men's Mystique. It's an entire approach to how women should conceive their costumes, and one that has exploded since Sex and the City's Miranda declared, "The only two choices for women; witch and sexy kitten."
It's adding sex to everything, from generic professions (cop, nurse, race car driver) to inanimate objects (houses, hot sauce, guitars). It's turning the awesome geek costumes cosplayers wear into screen-printed leotards, like "sexy Ghostbusters." This approach to Halloween makes children's fare — like Finding Nemo and Hermione Granger — into absolutely ludicrous adult sex play.
Most damningly, the sexy costume scourge isn't the domain of adults who want to let loose on Halloween; it's marketed directly to young girls.
While moms lament the difficulty of finding appropriate costumes to wear alongside their children, little girls can be a "Cop Cutie," a so-called "swashbuckler," or a "Bratty Doctor." There are dance costumes actually marketed with the description "sexy children" or "sexy girl party dress." Costumes based on movie characters forfeit accuracy to show a little more skin, with Snow White's Evil Queen losing the bottom of her flowing garb, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles becoming a girls' minidress.
That's not all. When girls are included in popular entertainment franchises, apparel makers gender-differentiate that fandom with "girl" versions, colors, and modified products. This month, DC Entertainment had to backtrack on a collection of female superhero t-shirts that featured gems like "Training to be Batman's Wife" and the image of Superman embracing Wonder Woman with the caption, "Score! Superman does it again!" Meanwhile, a Disney shirt for Guardians of the Galaxy was released this year with every main character featured — except Gamora, the lone female member of the team.
The incessant gender division — where businesses market temporary lower back tattoos to girls and superhero tattoos to boys, make gendered toys, and offer children's pole dancing kits — is having a noticeable effect on the children in question. This year, Oct. 1 was designated "Wear Your Superheroes Day." A 5-year-old girl and her sister created it after she was teased for wearing superhero shirts to school by boys who told her superheroes are only for them. In 2010, young Katie Goldman became a viral phenomenon when bullying over her Star Wars thermos made her yearn for her old pink thermos to fit in.
The sexualization of girls has become so pervasive that the American Psychological Association has created a task force to address the issue, detailing the rise of the phenomenon and its consequences: diminished mental capacity, eating disorders, health problems, and impaired sexual health when they reach adulthood.
When it comes to Halloween, the division prompts boys and girls to approach Halloween (not to mention life) differently. Boys are urged to strive for authentic representations of the characters they love, and girls are urged to don sexier variations. It is such a problem that sexy costuming is often becoming the only option for girls, unless they spend additional time, money, and effort to overcome the norm.
Luckily, there are movements trying to take back Halloween — to remember that this is a holiday that thrives in pretend play and becoming heroes you admire or villains you love. Take Back Halloween, conceived in 2010 by writer Suzanne Scoggins, is an expanding resource of costume ideas (which require no sewing) focused on women in history — "amazing queens, heroines, and goddesses in our cultural backgrounds" and women who live in infamy. The selection includes many women of cinema like Anna Mae Wong, Josephine Baker, Audrey Hepburn, and Hedy Lamarr, and women immortalized by it, like Hypatia (Agora), Lizzie Borden (Lizzie Borden Took an Ax), Bessie Coleman (Fly Girls), and Ching Shi (focus of the upcoming Maggie Q-starring Red Flag). The site is further bolstered by a Facebook gallery of additional costumes for women and kids — including Liza Minelli, Marie Curie, and Frida Kahlo — made by followers of the site.
The site itself hasn't specifically targeted the encroaching sexy kid costume movement — but A Mighty Girl takes up the slack. Rather than focus on creating costumes and DIY endeavors, the site curates a collection of children's costumes available for purchase that don't sex up beloved girl heroes. The costumes range from an Amelia Earhart ensemble for toddlers, to more accurate versions of Hermione Granger, Totoro, Lady Sif, Catwoman, and Medusa.
The internet cringes in horror at the pageant moms who put their kids into hideously inappropriate outfits and push them to mimic smoking, sex, and other adult behaviors, from the girl dressed as Julia Roberts' prostitute in Pretty Woman to the 4-year-old instructed to hump the pageant stage as a Hooters girl — but that absurdity becomes less of an anomaly and more of a Halloween reality every year.
We are living in a world where "sexy poop" is actually a thing. When the world is literally making women into sexy pieces of shit, it's time to recalibrate and embrace the joy of being actual women and people — not just sexy objects, in every sense of the phrase.