In Praise of "Dress Like a Whore" Day

Annabelle River's picture

It's almost Halloween again, which at least in the United States means it's time for the annual panic shared equally by the right and the left: Girls' Halloween costumes are too slutty.

Now, I'll quickly agree that most pre-packaged "sexy" Halloween costumes for women are just ridiculous. (Take for example Sexy Finding Nemo, Sexy Taxi, or Sexy Policewoman with the word "Busted" across her chest.) They're also expensive and poorly made: Despite the ubiquity of the Leg Avenue brand, I've never worn any of their clothing twice without ripping it, and yet they charge over $50 for a costume.  I confess that I drooled a little over their wood nymph costume hanging in a store window this year, but I'm an average size 10, and I could barely get the size-large over my head without ripping.   When I gave it back to the salesgirl and told her it was too small, the salesgirl (who was visibly shorter and skinnier than I am) nodded and confessed that she didn't know who's supposed to fit in these.  Regardless of what you want to be or how much skin you want to display or conceal, making or thrifting your own costume is more creative and usually more fun.

But the media and blogosphere don't seem especially concerned about pricing, quality, or size-ism of pre-packaged costumes.   The politically correct concern for Halloween costumes is to protect our impressionable daughters from the dangers of sexuality.  And yes, of course, children should be strongly protected from sexual coercion of any kind.  But I think the concerned conservatives and the concerned feminists both underestimate how early puberty naturally sparks lust.   I started masturbating and writing long obsessive diary-entries about "cute boys" when I was eleven. I could barely look the "cute boys" in the eye when I was eleven, but that's when the hormones set off my private imagination.

So I wholeheartedly agree that the little girl in this short-skirted ragdoll costume is too young for sex.  But I don't believe that her short skirt necessarily means that she is having sex, or even that she will in the next few years.  I would like to think that she'll have a fulfilling, self-aware, consensual sex life in ten or fifteen years - and puberty is when most people start the long process of self-discovery and experimental fantasy that makes that possible.  If a teen or "tween" girl wants to play-act in a shorter skirt than she would usually wear, I think it's less empowering to shame her than to make sure that her sexual beliefs are medically accurate, that she has the support of trustworthy adults and friends, and that she has enough self-confidence to say no and walk away from anything that makes her uncomfortable.  What scares me is the confusion and low self-esteem that follow the juxtaposition of pre-packaged, consumer "sexiness" and abstinence-only "education" teaching our daughters to shame "sluts."

Halloween is one night a year to celebrate fantasy. Really KJ Dell'Antonia said it best:

"I distinctly remember the annual struggle to come up with a Halloween costume that conveyed my hidden assets and yet didn't look like I was trying too hard, and certainly anything that involved fishnet tights invariably fit the bill.  When everything fell together, the feeling I remember best was one of power—of flaunting what felt like a rebellious choice in front of peers and adults alike, risk free. Were men and boys looking at me in inappropriate ways?  I guarantee that I hoped so. I also guarantee that I knew—as do the vast majority of people—that I was not inviting my drama teacher to go all Roman Polanski on me."

So I will laugh at the inanity of dressing up as a "Sexy Martini Glass," and I will delight in my once-a-year opportunity to wear my fetish clothes down the street. To the people cringing at teen girls' thighs, I have to say: Pick your battles.

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