Halloween has become irreversibly connected with "slutty" costumes, though I'm not quite sure when it happened. It might have been when the film Mean Girls was released, and Cady cleverly observed: "Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it." And everyone laughed, including me, because it resonated. But why are we really laughing?
I was one of those girls that wore "sexy" Halloween costumes in my early 20s. I'd go to the lingerie store and pick something out, add "fuck-me boots" and an accessory — wings, animal ears, face paint — and bam! Instant costume. My goal was always to look as hot as possible, despite the fact that it was always freezing on Halloween (I'd just drink enough booze before leaving the house so I wouldn't feel the cold).
One year, I was a "dark angel." That costume consisted of a black bustier, black boyshort underwear, fishnets, boots, and a pair of angel wings. Another year, I was a "candy strip(p)er," wearing just a red-and-white striped teddy, thigh-high white stockings, and heels. And then there was the year that I "fucked like a bunny." I wore a corset, underwear, and fishnets, topped with a strap-on, bunny ears, and a tail. The costume was always secondary to its hotness factor.
When I think back on the person I was when I wore those costumes, I see an insecure girl, desperate for attention and approval. I needed to look "hot" because I felt like I was anything but. I thought my worth came from being seen as attractive to men; I was filling an internal void with external validation. And yet, I still felt empty inside.
The truth was, the men who sought me out when I was parading around in my underwear were not men who respected me for who I was. They were men who saw me as nothing more than an object and therefore treated me like one. I had no respect for myself and then was confused when other people had no respect for me either.
None of this is to say that I deserved to be treated like a piece of meat, used and discarded when morning came. But it speaks to the unwinnable situation that women and girls face in a society that tells us that our worth comes from our desirability, yet judges us when we seek out our validation that way.
It's also not to say that women do not have agency and can't choose to dress in sexy costumes for themselves, to feel good about their body because what they're wearing makes them feel hot. Because that is possible too. Women can (and do) wear sexy outfits for themselves and not for male attention or validation.
But I am sad for the girls like the one I once was, who feel like they have no choice but to wear something "sexy" on Halloween. The girls who feel like they'll be uncool if they don't, or who feel like they need to prove their hotness by taking off their clothes. I wish I could tell them that they're worth so much more than that, that they can wear what makes them feel comfortable, that they should never feel like they have to be something that they're not.
When did we stop dressing up for fun and start feeling pressured to fit an idea that oppresses us every other day of the year? If anything, I hope that Halloween can one day be an escape from that pressure, instead of adding to it.
I no longer wear sexy Halloween costumes, not because I think there's something wrong with going out of the house in little to no clothing. I no longer wear those costumes because every time I did, another little piece of me died as I tried desperately to be what I thought I needed to be in order for people to like me, to want me.
Today, I love myself enough to no longer seek validation from people who will never be able to provide it. This year, my daughter and I will be going as cats. Not sexy cats. Just cats.
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