Adult trick-or-treaters sexualize childhood characters for Halloween

Faith Ann Ruszkowski

Big Bird has now joined the ranks of Disney Princesses, nurses and pirates; he has been made into a “sexy Halloween costume” for women. After Mitt Romney notably remarked in the first presidential debate that he was going to fire the famous children’s character, the website Yandy.com launched a sexed-up costume of Sesame Street’s favorite bird.

The trend toward sexualizing Halloween costumes and marketing them toward women is nothing new to this generation of UT students, who have become increasingly accustomed to seeing photos on Facebook or Twitter of friends dressed in varying degrees of provocative costuming around late October.

In “Mean Girls,” arguably the bible for early 2000s’ popular culture, Lindsay Lohan says, “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Her point may not be child friendly, but it is certainly proved by the array of four-inch skirt options available from any pop-up costume shop.

Susan Mickey, head of the design and technology area at UT, sees the shift in costumes from traditional Halloween garb to sexy getups as “a contemporary cultural comment that the holiday has become more for adults than for children.”

Halloween costumes began as a method to deceive the spirits of the dead that were thought to roam the earth on the night before Celtic holiday of Samhain. During these pre-Christian times, pagans dressed up in animal heads and skins. However, when Christianity transformed the night before Samhain into All Hallows’ Eve, costuming changed from animal heads to outfits of angels, devils and saints.

According to Dr. Penne Restad, a senior history lecturer at UT, Halloween did not catch on in the same way in America due to Puritanical culture. To early American colonizers, the celebration of a holiday so blatantly pagan contradicted the city on a hill they hoped America would become. Instead of celebrations the early colonial men, usually drunk, called mummers, knocked on doors dressed as Samhain spirits and demanded money or whiskey. Their costumes were strange, scary and often in drag. It is from this practice that the modern day practice of trick-or-treating evolved.

“In the 1950s and ‘60s Halloween became more about children,” Restad said. “It’s a holiday for adults, and little children took it over for a while. It was a way to celebrate innocence and childhood and American wholesomeness.”

She notes that associating children with Halloween was almost a way to deny the evil associated with a holiday that originally revolved around death.

Janet Davis, associate professor of American Studies, says that sexy Halloween costumes are a way in which adults transition a holiday that, for many years, centered around accompanying children as they went trick-or-treating door to door into a day (or weekend) celebrated in every bar on Sixth Street.

Davis notes that there is a “cultural nostalgia” for childhood that conflicts with increasing sexuality in society and this is reflected when Halloween costumes that recast childhood characters, such as Disney princesses, in a burlesque fashion. Because of the ingrained perception of Halloween created during childhood, adults often recreate costumes they wore decades ago into sexier apparel.

According to Restad, provocative Halloween costumes may have more in common with the beginning of Halloween traditions as a time when adults fought off evil spirits. While a sexy bunny may not be intimidating, Restad said, “There is nothing scarier than a sexy woman.”

Printed on Monday, October 29, 2012 as: Childhood characters get sexy for holidays