To be honest, I don’t remember all of my Halloween costumes growing up. I know one year I was Scooby from Scooby-Doo, another I was Eeyore from Whinnie-the-Pooh, and the one my family likes to give me the most grief for was the time I decided I wanted to be both a mummy and a vampire. I wrapped myself head-to-toe in Ace bandages, shoved plastic fangs into my mouth, draped a black and red cape on my back, and called myself “Count Mummula”. Aside from these more original ideas, I remember only one other costume from my childhood. October rolled around and I became more and more excited to visit the pop-up Halloween store in Bozeman. On our way there I was still debating between a clown and a witch. In the end, I decided the witch would simply be more practical for trick-or-treating as to avoid the inevitable tripping that comically large clown shoes cause. Upon arriving at the store, I immediately ran through every aisle until I found big, plack, pointy witch hats and hollered for my dad to come over.

“Uhhh, no.” It took less than ten seconds for my dad to decide that the witch costume was not gonna happen. Still looking at the image displayed on the packaging, my dad shook his head, grimaced, and firmly repeated his initial answer.

Of course, I whined “but, why?” I felt as though my rationale for the witch was well thought out and I couldn’t possibly think of a reason for him to say no.

“Lucy, you’re nine. I’m not letting you wear this,” he replied, still holding the package. While in the moment I was convinced that my dad had no good reasoning, as the years have passed, it’s become clear that he felt uncomfortable dressing his elementary school daughter in a short frilly skirt, thigh-high heeled boots, and a low-cut tank top for school dress-up day. Needless to say, I made sure to tie the laces on my obnoxiously large clown shoes extra tight that year.

The tight mini skirts and cleavage exposing v-knecks that dominate women’s Halloween costumes did not appear out of thin air. The sexy cat, sexy nurse, sexy construction worker, sexy _(insert literally any profession and/or object here)_, is such a common trope in female costumes because we as a society become desensitized to the hypersexualization and objectification of girls at such a young age. While the firefighter costume for young boys more often than not includes a yellow jacket with neon reflectors, a plastic red ax, and helmet, the girl’s version likely sticks to a tight-fitting, red, shiny dress, and heels – the perfect attire to put out a fire. This stark contrast not only highlights the sexualization of young girls but enforces gender roles and stereotypes as well.

While costumes for young boys don’t necessarily reinforce hypersexualization, they certainly perpetuate body standards and contribute to the development of toxic masculinity. An incredibly common costume for little boys tends to be a superhero. Growing up, my brother idolized batman and we have many pictures of him trick-or-treating as the superhero. The most prominent feature of the costume is undoubtedly the grapefruit-sized mounds in the sleeves and the chiseled six-pack of the abdomen. As a young boy, I’m sure my brother, much like many other young boys, thought it was the coolest thing in the world to have a costume that lets them look like their favorite superhero and while it might be fun, it certainly doesn’t contribute to the healthiest perception of what it means to be a man. They’re taught that the perfect man, a hero, is built just like their costume. The costume tells them that’s what they’re supposed to look like. That there’s only one “type” of superhero.

I’m not a parent and I’ve never had to think about what costume my child should or shouldn’t wear for Halloween, but I have thought about the effects of such costumes. Whether it’s your child’s Halloween costume or a 1950s housewife movie, gender stereotypes are everywhere, and it’s on everyone to break them down, unlearn them, and be aware of their harmful effects.

 

Written by Lucy Child, amazing past Peer Educator and intern!