Halloween is Frightening When it Sexualizes and Stereotypes

Back in the Day vs. Today
My what large muscles you've developed. Amazing! Especially since you're only 8.

Halloween is the time when goblins come out from under bridges and vampires emerge from creepy coffins. It is also the time when gender and racial stereotypes fly onto the racks of costume shops with frightening speed. It seems with every passing year the line blurs between sexy get ups and age appropriate ones. Sexy women’s costumes are converted into sexy  tween costumes and re-named “cutie.” Like cutie little red riding hood with a special place above her corset for her budding breasts.  There’s also “cute”–and totally stereotypical–Indian and Geisha, among others.

Pretty sexy and offensive, huh? If you don't know what tribe your dressing up as don't dress up. Scratch that. Just don't dress up as an "Indian". Ever! Ok?

Boys are also a target. Once upon a time hero costumes were just jumpsuits. Now they’ve taken testosterone and boast huge, bulging and perfect muscles promoting an unattainable masculine ideal that has recently been studied and shown to cause body image issues in men.

At a media literacy workshop I just led on gender roles and stereotypes, a group of young women looked specifically at the meaning behind costumes and toys. The girls analyzed the media, cultural messages and toys not only noting the gender roles and stereotypes costumes promote, but also how these toys and costumes reflect our cultural norms and values.

Here’s a list my students came up with showing the character traits, abilities and values most toys and costumes generate.

Boy Toys and Costumes

Speed, action, destroy, build, strategize, be handy, guns, violence, buff, powerful, balance, exercise, athletic, logic, heroic, save people, no relationship to women, doesn’t have a family, strong

Girl Toys and Costumes

Pretty, perfect body, wealth, fashion, party, wear little clothing, into boys, raise babies, caretakers, be responsible, clean up after others, dance, cook, clean, be domestic, be a princess saved by a man/prince

It’s a sad list, don’t you think? Especially when you think about how children are told who to be on such a subversive level.

An ah-ha moment came from this lesson when one student said that dolls were just for girls. I asked why? When she realized that boys turn into fathers who care for children she said,

“We should raise our boys to play with dolls.“ Then she said, “The only problem is that people would tease them for being weak or gay.”  She thought for a moment and then finished by saying,

“That’s messed up.”

It’s All in Good Fun

According to many psychologists and educators, play expands children’s understanding of themselves and the world around them.

And when it comes to girls and women dressing provocatively, Cady from Mean Girls said it best, Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”


Boing boing.net notes:

This year 3Wishes.com adds to the old standards of slutty nurse, slutty catwoman, and slutty police officer with slutty eating disorder by introducing the “Anna Rexia” costume. We doubt they grasp the irony of stuffing a busty model into a costume that invokes anorexia nervosa much less the idea that this costume whips up more female body issues than every season of Baywatch combined. But they are an equal opportunity offender. The get up is available in a plus size just in case big-boned chicks want to get in on the screw-with-the-mentally-afflicted Halloween action.

Be the life of the party and the butt of the joke in this  offensive costume.
Be the life of the party and the butt of jokes in this offensive costume. Halloween is just fun, games and--ahem--play. Right?



These costumes and play will collapse, not expand, a child’s understanding of him/herself and the world around them. What are we teaching our children about their world? What are we telling them is important to strive for?

Related Content: Five Surprising Ways to Love Your Body this Halloween

7 thoughts on “Halloween is Frightening When it Sexualizes and Stereotypes

  1. My typical Halloween costume: either a character from LOTR, Star Wars (I usually do Han Solo cause it’s easy), or a robot. When I do character costumes, I typically dress as male characters, even though I’m a cisgendered girl. I don’t really care.

  2. Hmmm…interesting thoughts. I like your costume way better. As you’re wife gets to be smart and intelligent as do you. Good luck with that other stuff. Not here to change your mind. Just to give you some things to consider. If your child was a teen girl or a fat woman, I wonder if you’d find this so funny.

  3. In all honesty the man in the fat suit is hilarious. I totally disagree with all the slutty women costumes and the sluts that wear them (if you don’t like it don’t buy it, duh!) and the mens costumes that are always about sex. But still the fat suit is funny. I’d wear it if I wasn’t already going as scully from the x-files with my wife as mulder 😀

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