Tis the Season to be “Sexy”: The sexualization of women on Halloween.

By: Samson Gladieux

Halloween is just around the corner and here at OSU and on college campuses across the United States Halloween is a time for women to dress up as sexy___(all most anything)____.  From sexy food to sexy tables to sexy finding nemo Halloween costumes have gone from scary to sexy and portray women in an increased sexualized manner. Such portrayals of young girls are so familiar to us and to girls themselves that it seems normal, harmless, and simply the way that girls are nowadays. This theme stuck out to me because I have always wondered why there were such distinct boundaries for boys and girls when walking into the Halloween store to pick out a costume. This analysis of sexualization of women at Halloween will include how gender, age, race, physique, and sexuality are portrayed in costumes and how commercialization of costumes on Halloween lead to how women are perceived.


From sexy nurses and sexy vampires to sexy bunnies, costumes that encourage young girls to sexualize themselves are everywhere. This cartoon by Andy Morlette demonstrates the boundaries that have been put on Halloween costumes. The girl in the cartoon seems unhappy compared to the boy who is reaching out to touch the costume he wants showing that maybe she doesn’t want to be any of the characters that she sees already listed for her on the wall. The cartoon is problematic because it has made it clear that boys and girls can only be certain characters for Halloween. Society has put more pressure on girls to wear sexy costumes than boys. Girls learn attitudes of gender at an early age from observing the stereotypical roles that people in their families assume. Boys costumes are all designed to make them look powerful (Superheroes), scary (Dracula), or funny. For example, a boys costume will never be labeled “sexy Astronaut”; it will simply be labeled “Astronaut” playing into the stereotype of men being powerful and being more technically smart. Sexy seems to be a term only used to describe female costumes and non-sexy versions of these characters such as Astronauts are pretty empowering.

The Halloween costume options in these cartoons are distinctly divided for boys and girls when they could be men and women. The role of the age of the boy and girl in the cartoon seems to be a way in which norms have been constructed and maintained through fashion by our society at a young age. Children are quite good observers and tend to want to wear and do what they see in their surroundings. Young girls don’t even see the label “sexy”; they see women wearing the costume in the pictures depicting characters and want to do the same. There is nothing wrong with having sexy costumes for women or sexy costumes being worn by women, but there is definitely more pressure on young girls to go along with normative values of dressing sexy for Halloween even if they don’t know what sexy is.

This scene from the movie Mean Girls sums up what a lot of girls feel is expected of them on Halloween. This is that Halloween allows women to reinforce the stereotype that they are hyper sexual and desire male attention constantly. “In the real world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. 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. The hardcore girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears.”(Mean Girls, Video) This seems to be the general attitude on Halloween here in “girl world”; that this will be the one and only night when it is ok and expected of girls, to dress increasingly sexualized. Who’s giving girls this permission on October 31st to dress this way? For whom are girls doing all this dress-up for?

With all four of the main characters in the Mean Girls movie clip being white the movie takes the assumption that the girls are dressing sexy to give visual pleasure to the boys at the Halloween party. The two girls at the party appear to want the attention of a guy who fits into the so called mythical norm. They are portrayed to want this attention because costumes and “images can only be viewed through the lens of the ideal viewer (the straight male)” (Berger, 48). This mythical norm that these women seem to be looking for is assumed to be someone at the party who is white, thin, male, young, and heterosexual. This seems to be who they are dressing up for because they too are portrayed as white and thin and assumed to be heterosexual. It seems that not only are the girls wearing sexual costumes for males, they are wearing them to fit in with the other girls. If a girl doesn’t show some leg, some midriff, some cleavage, she like Lindsay Lohan will go against this so called “slut rule” in the clip and run the risk of being teased for being too scary, not being cool, or even worse being prude. There exist a double blind in the eyes of men in the “girl world” on Halloween. That is, if you don’t dress sexy you’re a prude and if you do dress sexy you’re seen as a slut.


The man in this costume is being grinded upon by a stereotypically attractive woman wearing next to nothing while he remains fully dressed. This Halloween costume has come about from the Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus VMA performance of the song Blurred Lines. That performance and the creation of this costume give forth that the image that it is cool, sexy, and perfectly acceptable to objectify and hyper sexualize women. This costume or lack thereof is problematic in the sense that not only it perfectly fine for women to let a man disrespect them but it is desired. This costume also plays on the stereotype that men see women as replaceable objects and men don’t care what women wearing as long as its next to nothing. Assumptions of this Halloween costume are that the guy and girl are heterosexual playing into the idea of their sexuality as a normative value.


This is a Halloween costume of Pocahontas the Disney Princess. This image is problematic because Pocahontas was a Native American Indian and this woman is white. This could make young girls feel that the only way to be a princess is by being white. This Halloween Costume also depicts a childhood princess in the typical sexy Halloween costume. This conveys to women and young girls the stereotype that women should focus on your appearance above all else. Furthermore, that if you don’t fit our society’s narrow beauty ideal, this culture doesn’t want to think of you as being sexually desirable.  This costume like most “sexy” costumes is problematic because the sizes compared to the majority of women’s Halloween costumes are appallingly narrow. This so called costume with a lot of revealed skin and a very limited range of sizes makes it clear that “sexy” costumes aren’t being made for the average American size 14 women. The description included underneath the costume picture also goes along with the stereotype that women need constant affection so they can survive day to day.


The picture above is two girls kissing at a Halloween party. They are wearing “sexy” Halloween costumes and are showing affection for one another.  It is assumed that the two girls are lesbians and is again playing into the stereotype that all women are hyper sexualized. In the LGBT community and in LGBT Halloween spaces both men and women “sexy” it up for Halloween. Any woman who is insufficiently dressed will receive sexual attention either male or female. Gay men who dress “sexy” receive the sexual attention they want from other gay men. But heterosexual men who dress “sexy” cannot achieve their intended purpose of going home with a girl because the girl at that party will most likely see him in his “sexy” outfit and assume that he is gay, and move on. It seems that from the lens of the male perspective that girls who wear “sexy” Halloween costumes and kiss are still attractive because they are being sexual and are barely dressed but seeing guys’ dressed “sexy” kiss is appalling because they are being homosexual.


All five of these artifacts demonstrate how women are sexualized in the media especially on Halloween. The “marketplace (advertising) is the major structuring institution of contemporary consumer society” (Jhally, 199). Starting at an early age the cartoon by Andy Morlette shows people that there are distinct ways boys and girls should dress on Halloween. He portrays in his cartoon that girls must dress as “sexy” whatever’s and boys must dress as superheroes or scary characters .Through this “sexy” vs. superhero costume dichotomy there exist a power relationship for who controls happiness because “satisfaction should be achieved via the marketplace” (Jhally, 200). Women who are considered “sexy” on Halloween are expected to wear revealing clothing, pose seductively, and act sexual. The women in these artifacts are meant to look genuine and go with this norm of sexualization on Halloween, but in reality they are far from what is considered the average American woman.

After endless searching the online Halloween marketplace it became evident that race is a key symbol for what is considered “sexy”. Costumes that were labeled “sexy” are almost exclusively for white women. A “White, skinny woman is desirable and this desired woman is never a woman of color” (Vallenti, 182). Out of hundreds of costume options online for women, only one woman of color was portrayed in a “sexy” costume (Princess and the Frog costume). This is quite problematic for women of color searching for “sexy” costumes because even the Disney princess Pocahontas is dressed by a white woman. This creates the effect that woman of color cannot relate to the “sexy” characters and believe they cannot be sexy too. To go along with race and gender in the clip of Mean Girls one has to look closely but a woman of color is seen in a dark shaded corner. This absent presence as described by Mulvey illustrates again that woman of color cannot relate to the main characters in the scene because all of them are white and the women who are of color are shunned to just a glimpse to show they exist.

Not only does “sexy” on Halloween have to be women who are white, it has to be only women of a certain physique and age. The Halloween costume depicting Miley Cyrus is a prime example for the boundaries placed on age and physique. Miley, as well as the girl wearing her so called costume are both size zero to three women who barley have an ounce of fat on them and are under the age of twenty-five. Those women who do not fall into this age range restriction from eighteen to twenty-five and who are over size ten are seen as undesirable and not-”sexy”. Berger describes in her article Ways of Seeing that women look at themselves and begin to internalize the male gaze. This costume rooting from the VMA performance is also an example of how Halloween for women is a time for participating in their own manipulating. Halloween can be just one more reminder that a girl has to be all “sexy” or she’s nothing. These five artifacts begin to all restrict the gender, race, age, and physique constructing an identity for who is considered “sexy” on Halloween.

A question brought up earlier For whom are girls doing all this dress-up for? Seems to be a narrative that all of the girls in the artifacts can relate to. On Halloween “women are depicted in a quite different way from men-not because the feminine is different from the masculine-but because the “ideal” spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him” (Berger, 46). Furthermore, it is described though a term called scopophilia that men find a “pleasure in looking” (Hooks, 146).  Women are constantly being looked at on Halloween and Berger states that “men possess the gaze while the woman is gazed at” (Berger, 48). A power dynamic begins to come into play with the man checking out the woman and the woman knowing and looking into society. Men clearly seem to be the target for “sexy” costumes being worn on Halloween because of rampant commercialization of sexification of costumes in a heterosexual manner. Pictures like the two girls kissing in “sexy” costumes on Halloween are disrupting to dominant readings and begin to unravel how adverstising and commercialization of Halloween has played a role in leading to the sexualization of women.


AcidCow. “Sexy college girls partying at Halloween parties”; Photograph. http://acidcow.com/girls/25234-sexy-sorority-girl-slut-o-ween-2011-98-pics.html October 20, 2011

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Ways of Seeing. London: BBC/Penguin Books, 1972. 45-54, 62-64.

Crates and Ribbons .“Avoiding the Pitfalls of Halloween”;The epidemic of sexy female costumes; Photograph. http://cratesandribbons.com/2012/10/28/avoiding-the-pitfalls-of-halloween/ October 28, 2012, Andy Morlette Halloween Cartoon

Hooks, bell. “Is Paris Burning?” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End, 1992. 145-156. Print.

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture.” The World and I. July, 1990. 199-203

“Miley’s scandalous VMA performance”, whatspopininpopculture. http://whatspoppininpopculture.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/new-miley-cyrus-and-justin-bieber-song-twerk-leaks-listen-here/; August 23, 2013, spin

“Nude Bikini Set”; Yandy.com http://www.yandy.com/Nude-Bikini-Set.php n.p., n.d.

Valenti, Jessica. “The Cult of Virginity.” In Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Susan Shaw and Janet Lee, eds. 2011. 5th Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill. 181-185. Print.

“Womans Sexy Pocahottie Costume”; CostumeSuperCenter; Photograph.http://www.costumesupercenter.com/pocahontas+costumes/DG5877-womans-sexy-pocahottie-costume.html n.p., n.d.

YouTube. “In girl world you can dress like a complete slut” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKuF3fV8_yc October 27, 2011