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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C

Are sexy Halloween outfits empowering or degrading? That all depends on your sense of self

“You are a fat, worthless pig.” Words women say to themselves everyday, writes Lorraine Courtney, who questions whether hypersexualised Halloween outfits are empowering or degrading?

AH, HALLOWEEN. THE night that was once all about children dressing up in bin liners and white sheets has morphed into an annual tradition of women dressing up in skimpy synthetic-fiber garments and animal ears.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to wear a sexy costume on ‘Slutoween’, as some like to call it, but shouldn’t there be other costumes marketed to us too?

When I was a child the kinds of sexy Halloween costumes that are popular now were relegated to fetish shop windows, like stilettos with six-inch heels.

Now, twenty years later, the stupidly high heels and hypersexualised Halloween outfits have emerged from the shadowy enclave of the fetish shop window and emerged in the bright glare of the mainstream.

‘One night of year a girl can dress like a slut’

We’re all confronting, head-on, the line made infamous by Tina Fey:

Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and none of the other girls can say a word about it.

From the late nineties onwards, lingerie paired with animal ears became a legit costume choice for women. Actually, it became the mandatory costume.


And as 31 October edges closer and as we’re bombarded with more and more ideas for tasteless/offensive/revealing costumes, it can be easy to forget that you don’t have to dress as a slutty whatever if you don’t want to.

Besides, isn’t that something that pitiable and confused teenage girls do, like pretending to enjoy smoking, or pretending to be interested in every boring thing some boring boy says in the hope he’ll provide her with some self- validation.


Anyone over the age of fourteen who does any of the above does not need a sexy bee costume. They need better self-esteem.

Not slut-shaming 

I’m not writing this to slut-shame girls who want to dress up as a sexy bee this Halloween, although I might tell them to put a cardigan over those stripes. But I am trying to claw the innocent joy of Halloween out of the clutches of the “forced sexiness”.

Halloween is meant to be a bit of fun, not a night that you’re forced to reveal your side boob. And it really shouldn’t be a night when women feel that they are being forced to don a sexy get-up.

shutterstock_14852860 Shutterstock / Jason Stitt Shutterstock / Jason Stitt / Jason Stitt

Read these words: “Ugly. Big. Gross.” “You are a fat, worthless pig.” “You’re too thin. No man is ever going to want you.” Online misogynist trolling?

The rant of an abusive, controlling partner? No. Shockingly, these are the actual words young women are saying to themselves on any typical day.

Pressure on women 

For some, such thoughts are fleeting, but for others, this dialogue plays on a constant, punishing loop, according to a Glamour survey of more than 300 women of all sizes. A poll carried out by MORI found that 50% of young women feel under pressure to look good at all times and 46% feel under pressure to lose weight.

Naomi Wolf’s polemic The Beauty Myth is more than twenty years old. In it, she argued that as feminism took hold and women gained new access to power, popular ideas of beauty were being used to undermine them.

Eating disorders, advertising, the workplace, the media, pornography and the evangelical religiosity and shoddy science of the cosmetics industry were all exposed as part of this fragrant patriarchal backlash. ‘Slutoween’ is a part of it too.

shutterstock_182074958 Shutterstock / Evgeny Atamanenko Shutterstock / Evgeny Atamanenko / Evgeny Atamanenko

Ultimately, whether ‘Slutoween’ is empowering or degrading depends on your sense of self. It’s not as black-and-white as being either attention-seeking or empowered.

Some women are simply taking advantage of one of the few evenings during which they don’t feel sexually inhibited and can flaunt themselves in a flesh-flashing number. Others like that Slutoween is a time when body image doesn’t dictate what one can or can’t get away with wearing.

Too many of us already feel that life has become one long and tiresome beauty pageant and shouldn’t Halloween be a time that we could forget about that and not worry that our bum looks big. Put on the suspenders and bunny ears if you want, but don’t feel that you have to.

Read: ‘My first novel was published 18 years ago and I still get asked the oddest questions’>

Read: Construction site to delivery room: How I became one of Ireland’s few male midwives>

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