When did Halloween move from terror to titillation?

It’s easy to eye-roll at eejits who think that Halloween is about boobs and bare legs but perhaps it’s the one time some can let their foxy flag fly

‘When did Halloween move from terror to titillation?’

‘When did Halloween move from terror to titillation?’

 

It’s tough to pinpoint the moment at which Halloween costumes moved from terror to titillation. Using popular culture as an entirely reliable historical text, we were well into sexy nurse territory by the time Mean Girls (2004) came on the scene; Lindsay Lohan’s home-schooled Cady wasn’t to know that “in girl world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut, and no other girls can say anything about it”, arriving at a Halloween party as a zombie ex-wife, complete with blood-stained wedding dress and rotting teeth.

Back in 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Halloween episode gave hints of what was to come. Buffy dressed as a 17th-century noblewoman, in a full-length gown with Marie Antoinette wig; Cordelia dressed as a cat, sure, in a leopard-print onesie, but there was barely a millimetre of cleavage on show; and it was left to Willow, the least likely to dress provocatively, to fly the flag for sexy sartorial choices – although, in the end, she covers up her crop top (with long sleeves, a mini skirt, and tights) with a white sheet and goes as a ghost.

Officially, Halloween is a festival that celebrates the dead. Unofficially, it’s a fairly capitalistic celebration, where children dress in adorable onesies and go door-to-door seeking treats (and cash, in some parts), and adults incorporate the kitschiest elements of the Celtic tradition in their trick-or-treat stashes, their home décor and, of course, their costumes.

But somewhere between 1997 and 2004, the gauntlet was thrown, and “sexy” became the word of the day when it comes to Halloween costumes for women above the age of 16.

In a way, it would be easy to criticise them, eye-rolling at these eejits who think that Halloween is about boobs and bare legs. They’re obviously choosing to dress like that – are they idiots, or just exhibitionists who feel Halloween is the one time they can truly let their foxy flag fly?

But that criticism would be to imply that women have a free choice in what they wear, and why – and to have free choice, one must be operating within a free, equal system.

To sum up: if you grow up female in the western world, you will have been bombarded – from the moment you could see a TV screen or read a comic book – with imagery, from advertising to newspapers (page 3 anyone?) to television shows and films, that illustrates to you so very clearly that being sexy and attractive is the ultimate goal, without the achievement of which, all other accomplishments are rendered null and void.

In that context, when our women have been coerced and convinced into believing that their value lies not only in their ability to appear attractive but in their ability to be desired, by the opposite sex, yes, but by society at large, who could blame them for taking this opportunity to show off the fruits of their labours?

It could be argued that “sexy Halloween” would disappear entirely if there weren’t, in fact, such contradictory restraints placed on women by society. Cleavage? Sexy – but too much cleavage? Vulgar. Make-up? Essential. Too much make-up? Vulgar. Tight jeans? Sexy. Super-tight jeans? Vulgar. Those are tough rules to abide by – at Halloween, they go out the window entirely.

So what’s to be done – and when will it end?

The simple answer? Women will carry on wanting to be seen as sexy for as long as we, as a society, place that as our ideal. In a utopian future, where we stop idolising Victoria’s Secret models, fetishising breasts and insisting that our female film stars weigh less than an 11-year-old before we’ll deign to place them on our screens, there is every chance that we’ll see more feral felines than we will sexy, on All Hallow’s Eve.

By all means, try to effect change by sitting down with your nearest and dearest and chatting about feminism and the idea of woman as object; explain to your friends and family that sexiness is subjective, not objective; do some detailed analysis of female representation in popular culture and give feminist texts (Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls is a good place to start) to everyone you love.

And if all else fails? Let’s try a novel tack: let’s believe women when they say that they want to dress as a sexy cat. Let’s tell them they look beautiful when they dress in an outfit that you find vulgar. And let’s trust them when they say that dressing in a French maid’s costume with seamed fishnets makes them feel empowered – empowerment is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

And as for Halloween? Thankfully, it’s just one night.

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