I know, I know. Most of us are still stuffed from the stuffing (and other delicacies). The turkey has barely been in the fridge long enough to be considered a leftover. “Isn’t a Halloween-themed article a bit of an oversight?” you might be tempted to ask. Meh, hmph, dunno. I prefer to think of it as a post filled with hindsight.
Also, Halloween happens to be in my top two favorite holidays of all time. I love having an excuse to pig out on a wide variety of candies/junk and indulge in the simple pleasures of dress up and make-believe. Over the years, I’ve decked myself out in everything from a picnic table to the neighborhood watch guy, to an actual rainbow. I’ve won four costume contests. Yes, I am tooting my own horn, but we’ll pretend it’s backstory as to why I love All Hallows Eve so much. There is very little that can dampen my spirits on such a day.
Except for the perplexity that is the costume paradox.
The costume paradox, by my own definition, is how women are expected to use the holiday as their “get-out-of-jail-free” card, or as my good friend Cady from a little-know Tina Fey film would say, “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”
Stupid, really. Really, really stupid. The situation in Mean Girls is part of the paradox because if girls dress with minimal clothing any other day of the year, then of course they’re sluts. But on the flip side of the issue, Cady, who makes the observation quoted above, is made to feel silly when she shows up to her crush’s Halloween party fully clothed, in a horror-based costume. The costume paradox puts females into a damned if you do, damned if you don’t, lose-lose situation. As feminists, we’ve worked so hard to be taken seriously in the workplace. Do we really do ourselves any favors when we use a costume to sexualize the position of nurse? A police officer? A teacher? On the other hand, haven’t we fought for this exact same right, the right to dress in whatever makes us feel happy, sexy and confident, and yes, maybe even a little ridiculous?
My friend and I were at Wal-Mart doing some miscellaneous shopping right before Halloween this year and she spied a woman’s mummy costume hanging out of a discount bin. This mummy, however, had considerably less wrappings than would be expected from a dead, potentially embalmed creature.
“Seriously,” she sighed, “even a mummy can’t be covered up anymore? I don’t get it.”
And I had to laugh, first of all, because it was off-the-cuff and hilarious, but also because somehow the whole sexy/slut vs. creative/prude really has seemed to creep into existence and blown up into a full-fledged phenomenon where everyone is shaking their heads and bemoaning an era where one might encounter ladies dressed as sexy babies or slutty slices of pizza while simultaneously celebrating and encouraging a culture where it’s acceptable, if only for a day.
To me, it all boils down to the ever-cursed patriarchy, that son of a gun who tries to tell us she-folk when we can be sexy, where we can be sexy and how we should do it. Slutty French maid ok? Great, let me go grab my duster real quick-like. Skanky Santa Claus ruins your childhood memories? Sorry, I’ll dial it back a notch.
I have a real sinister idea- what if we just let people be who and what they want to be during any old time of the year? What if we focus less on what everyone is wearing and more on what they’re doing? Granted, I may be disturbed if I’m out to dinner and my waiter comes to take my order in full-on Joker apparel, but in reality, I’m far more unnerved by how people treat, judge and ostracize each other on a daily basis.
And at the end of the day, the costume paradox is really founded in the age-old modesty rhetoric of all the rules women need to follow in order to lure men in without making them fall. And well, I’m just not about that life. I’ve always had this theory about why some of my Mormon friends from college would get so upset when they’d see a girl dressing “immodestly” (damn you, skirt-over-leggings!) If they were really content in their own modesty and dress choices, they wouldn’t care so much about what other girls were wearing. But it was these same girls that would get so peeved at “slutty clothing” that would in later years outfit themselves in accouterments they had previously condemned. Which to me means that they had to have been more than a little desirous to feel free to wear whatever they chose without fear of judgment and ridicule. Clearly, they did not, and so they felt the need to comment on other women’s wardrobe expression. So, my theory basically boils down to this: if you’re confident in your own choices, what other people do isn’t bothersome because you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. When you feel restricted, that’s when the judgey part of human nature rears its overly large head. Come to think of it, human nature could make for a very interesting costume.
And if I want to dress up as her, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Whether I make it “sexy” or not is up to me. Sexy is in the eye of the beholder anyway. So next Halloween, whatever I may wear, you can take it or leave it, I’ll just take my treat and eat it.