While men have practically no pressure to look sexy on Halloween, the trend for women has been quite the opposite in recent years, to say the least. Skin-hugging dresses, super-short skirts and low-cut tops designed to maximize cleavage seem to be the norm at popular costume retailers, leaving few options for ladies who aren't comfortable wearing such revealing outfits.
"Halloween is the one day of the year when females are encouraged to come as they aren't, and while the idea of dressing up to play a different role during the holiday can be exciting, there is serious concern when women believe the only way they can alter their identity is to objectify their bodies in overtly sexy costumes," says Annalisa Castaldo, associate professor of English and former director of the Gender and Women's Studies Program at Widener University in Chester, Pa.
Women certainly have every right to dress as they choose and embrace their sensuality, but the hyper-sexualization of today's Halloween costumes, as well as the immense pressure these tight-fitting outfits place on being slim, seem to reinforce harmful stereotypes that women exist simply for the arousal of men. (True story: While checking out the website of popular party supply store Party City a few days ago, I was immediately bombarded with a huge ad for the retailer's skimpy "Body Shaper" costumes, which claimed to "enhance your shape" and "reduce your waistline up to 2 sizes".)
"The marketing is clear: for Halloween, women are fit into a box that can be hard to think outside of," observes Brianna Bell, a freelance writer and mother of two young daughters from Toronto. "Do you want to dress up as a doctor? Well, unless you want to buy a men's costume, you're going to be stuck dressing as a sexy doctor. If a man dresses up as a firefighter, he looks like a real firefighter. If a woman does, she's wearing shorts and a low crop top with a firefighter print."
So what's a woman to do who wants to get into the Halloween spirit without feeling like she's ready for the Playboy Mansion? Start by looking within—and don't be afraid to get creative!
"Think about a role model or a character that represents empowerment," says life coach Tiffany Mason, founder of Mason Coaching and Consulting, LLC, in New York City. "Women should choose a costume that makes them feel confident, and it's also important to choose a costume that they believe in."
If you can't find a prepackaged costume that embodies what you're looking for, consider putting together a costume yourself. You might be able to repurpose some clothing you already own and pick up a few cheap props and accessories from your local thrift store or costume shop.
Here are a few empowering costume ideas to consider this Halloween.