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Sexy Halloween Costumes: Empowering or Degrading to Women?

sexy costume for Halloween

Halloween – one way you get to relive your childhood every year. The anticipation you felt as a kid getting to wear that Disney Princess dress or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume to go trick or treating still applies for many college students as they plan and create their costume – sometimes multiple costumes – for a weekend of parties.

We surveyed 50 Virginia Tech students earlier this week to see what trends we might find among them when it comes to Halloween. Of the students we asked, all but three said they planned to celebrate Halloween by dressing up. In true last-minute-college-student fashion, 11 of those we talked to said they didn’t yet know what their costume would be.

Some Costumes That Students Have Planned

Of the rest, who had a costume or costumes planned, we found a wide range from general costumes like aliens, pirates, school girls, and frat boys to specific costumes like fairy tale characters including Jasmine from Aladdin and Little Red Riding Hood, or TV and movie characters Harley Quinn, Clark Kent and Bert Macklin. You may run into Brittney Spears and the Spice Girls, Donald Trump, or even the Easter Bunny.

The overwhelming majority said they were making their costumes or had part of the costume already and were just buying a few needed materials or accessories to put them together. So, it seems that Halloween is a great time for college students to express their creativity.

Offensive Costumes?

We wondered, however, if there is such a thing as too creative? Can certain costumes be offensive to others?

Some students said they are offended by costumes that are racially or culturally insensitive, attempting to portray different ethnicities or races. “Indian (Native American) costumes are offensive to me because I’m of Native American descent,” said Kaitlyn, a senior. Several others mentioned costumes portraying tragedy victims would be crossing the line.

Half of those we surveyed said that they did not find any costumes to be offensive. “It’s a night that’s not meant to be serious,” said Josh, a sophomore. “It’s just meant to be fun,” Rachel, a junior, said.

Sexy Costumes for Women

So, on this weekend of lighthearted fun, students should be able to choose a costume that’s reflective of how they want others to see themselves. Whether that’s scary or punny, sexy or innovative, beautiful or funny. It seems, however, like the trend for women at Halloween is to wear sexy costumes. Is this something that women are choosing for themselves, to feel empowered and beautiful? Or do women feel pressured into this one type of costume by our society? Like Cady in Mean Girls, do those dressed as something other than a sexy cat or bunny feel out of place?

We asked students for their take on this Halloween trend to find out whether they think sexy costumes are empowering or degrading to women.

Empowering or Degrading?

Almost half of those surveyed were neutral, saying that it was the woman’s choice and that it depended on the woman and her motives. An anonymous male sophomore said, “Some enjoy it, but some dress that way because they are pushed to do it.” Nicole, a junior said, “People can take it the wrong way. But if the girl likes wearing it, she should wear it.”

Some women we spoke with said they do like wearing sexy costumes and feel empowered. “It gives us a chance to do what we want and to accentuate our bodies,” said Elaina, a freshman. Jessica, a junior, said, “For me, I’ve never felt degraded. It just depends on how comfortable you are with your body.”

Others, both men and women, disagreed and held the opinion that sexy costumes are degrading to women. “It’s not the best way to portray ourselves,” said Lydia, a junior. “There’s so much more to women than our bodies.”

“They feel the need to wear less to fit in,” said Allison, a freshman. “It takes away from your values and shows your values.”

Both men and women agreed that sexy costumes can lead to objectification of women. “They make guys think it’s ok to view us as objects,” Lexi, a junior, said. “It makes them look like an object,” said Zach, a freshman.

Allie said, “We don’t understand how men’s minds work and how quickly their minds can switch from seeing us as humans to objects.”

A Double Standard?

If you Google image search: “Halloween costumes for women,” nearly all of the results are tight fitting, cleavage revealing, extremely short options. In contrast, “Halloween costumes for men” brings up a page with a majority of fully clothed options. Jessie, a freshman, commented on this discrepancy, “There’s not much sexy stuff for men. It’s unequal.”

“It’s degrading that it’s hard for women to find non-sexy costumes,” Matt, a junior said.

Other men seemed to agree, saying they believe women often wear sexy costumes because they feel pressured to do so. “They feel like they have to appeal to society and what they want to see,” said Justin a freshman.

“They have to appeal to the norm of looking sexy,” said Antonio, a sophomore. “I think they feel pressured to dress like that, and it might not be what they want,” an anonymous male senior said.

No matter what costume you decide on for this Halloween, we at Valley Women’s Clinic hope you choose one that’s reflective of you, whether that’s creative, beautiful, funny, or something in between. We believe that you shouldn’t feel pressured to wear something you don’t want to or are uncomfortable with because of expectations of others. We hope you have a fun and safe Halloween weekend.

Valley Women’s Clinic is Here for You

And remember that, if at any point this semester, you find yourself in need of our free and confidential services, we are here for you. Request an appointment for our Blacksburg or Radford clinic.

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Survey of 50 people on Wednesday, Oct. 26, on the VT campus:
25 males and 25 females (9 freshman, 14 sophomores, 13 juniors, 10 seniors, 4 grad/PhD/other)
Not wearing a costume: 3 | Wearing a costume: 11 unsure, 4 group costume, 11 real person, 2 scary, 19 famous movie/TV character
Making their costume: 30 | Buying their costume (or parts of the costume): 15 | Already had it: 2

Any costumes you find offensive?

  • None: 25
  • Race/cultural: 16
  • Tragedy victims: 3
  • Scary: 2
  • Political: 1
  • Sexy: 1
  • Other: 2

Sexy costumes: degrading or empowering to women?

  • Empowering: 10 (4 males, 6 females)
  • Degrading: 16 (6 males, 10 females)
  • Neutral: 24 (15 males, 9 females)