For kids, Halloween is literally the best day of the year: more or less free access to candy; permission to roam the neighborhood at night ringing random doorbells; and a chance to express, via one’s costume, some idealized version of one’s identity. A shy kid can become a superhero, a clumsy Little League dropout can dress like a Hall of Famer.
What’s not to like?
Well, a few things. Don’t get me wrong—I’m still a fan of the candy (mostly) and the part about running around outside and ringing doorbells. The part I don’t always like is the costumes. And I’m not the only one. Every year, I see and hear complaints about them, and there are three particular types of Halloween costumes that seem to me to be the most problematic—for very different reasons.
The over-the-top sexy costume has taken over our culture, both for adult women and for the tiniest little girls. Ladies, have you ever wanted to dress up for Halloween as a sexy ketchup bottle? A curvy crayon? You can. A few years ago, Cracked came up with a list of gratuitously naughty costumes, from sexy Big Bird to sexy Darth Vader.
Still, these are for adults—people who presumably have sex and are making a choice about presenting themselves in a sexualized costume. The same cannot be said for the 8-year-old wearing a werewolf-hooker getup, or the preschooler “skeleton sweetie” (yes, it comes in sizes as small as a 4), which, if you took the away the bones stenciled on the pantyhose, looks like some of the lingerie I got at my bachelorette party.
Plenty of costumes manage to be cute without demeaning someone else’s culture: Get one of those instead.
This isn’t just about the sexualization of young girls—or rather, the sexualization of young girls isn’t just about molestation or predators or sexual danger. Thankfully, even little girls in hoochie costumes are usually safe from sexual abuse. But what these costumes communicate to them is a subtler, more insidious danger: your value derives from usefulness as a sexual object; your own fantasies about being a superhero or monster must always be tempered with society’s need for you to be pretty; unlike your brother’s, your costume will never be comfortable or easy to move in.
Then there’s the racist costume. Despite increasing levels of sensitivity—including a helpful series of posters explaining why it’s offensive to dress up as a member of an oppressed or exoticized ethnic group—people must keep buying these costumes because they are still available. My advice? Look at those posters, then ask yourself: Why am I dressing my child for Halloween as a geisha, an Indian princess, or a “little Mexicanamigo”? Plenty of costumes manage to be cute without demeaning someone else’s culture: Get one of those instead.
Last—and I know many will disagree with this—I have a problem with the too-perfect, too-clever, all-homemade, artisanal costume. I grew up in a family that favored the homemade over the store-bought every time—I like homemade. But that said, we are in the midst of a crafting epidemic that has already enslaved too many women. The costume is such a small part of what makes Halloween fun for kids. And when parents (usually moms) feel obligated to put on their crafting hats (and put in hours of work) to create a work of art, one that means more to them than it does to their child, well, that makes October 31 anything but a holiday for them.
I think it’s time for costumes to go back to basics: ghosts in sheets, cats in black PJs and ears, bears in brown PJs and ears, a superhero’s cape. What they’ll remember is the night sky, the feeling of freedom, the tummy full of forbidden, unhealthy delicacies.