Revealing Halloween costumes contribute to sexualization of women

Women's Halloween costumes tend to be more revealing than men's, and this can lead to increased sexualization and objectification, according to research published in Fashion and Textiles. Here, author of the research, Sharron Lennon, tells us more.

Researchers in many disciplines have noted that women and girls are shown in revealing dress in the media and that these depictions have unwelcome consequences, such as sexualization.

According to the APA Task Force report on the Sexualization of Girls sexualization occurs when someone’s value is based on her sexual appeal, to the exclusion of other aspects; when someone is considered sexy only if she achieves a narrowly defined rigid standard of physical attractiveness; when someone is sexually objectified (by others), a thing for the sexual use of others rather than being an independent decision-maker; or when sexuality is forced on a person by another.

In fact, researchers find that in U.S. culture it is common for women to be sexually objectified by others or valued as a function of their sexual appeal and this is clear in media depictions. Objectification is both harmful to the objectifier and to the person who is objectified. That same research also shows that people objectify others who are wearing revealing clothing, so that revealing clothing is associated with the objectification of others.

In our research, published in Fashion and Textiles, we were interested in revealing Halloween costumes to determine if they would also lead to objectification and sexualization.

Results of an analysis showed that, as expected, women dressed in revealing costumes were rated more sexualized

For our research, we conducted two studies. In the first we determined whether or not women’s Halloween costumes were more revealing than men’s. In the second, we investigated whether women wearing revealing Halloween costumes are objectified by others, a type of sexualization. We used 124 matched costume pairs (e.g., police man, police woman) from Halloween retail websites in our first study. The research team rated the costumes on their revealing nature: tightness and whether or not costumes revealed the body by showing skin. Based on a statistical analysis we found that women’s costumes were tighter than men’s and revealed more skin than men’s costumes.

In the second study we recruited 295 male and female participants to complete an online experiment, using women wearing Halloween costumes identified in the first study as revealing or non-revealing. For each costumed image a context was provided: “This woman is on her way to a Halloween party. Please rate her personal characteristics using the following system. She has/is . . .” These instructions were followed by a series of adjectives used by participants to rate the costumed women.

We reasoned that if someone is valued primarily for her sexual appeal, it is reasonable to expect that person to be rated higher on sexualizing traits and lower on other positive traits.

Results of an analysis showed that, as expected, women dressed in revealing costumes were rated more sexualized and less considerate, less faithful, less moral, less sincere, and less self-respecting than women wearing non-revealing costumes. Further analysis revealed that both men and women sexually objectified the costumed women. Thus, women wearing revealing Halloween costumes were sexualized more than those wearing non-revealing costumes. Men rated the costumed women higher in sexually objectifying traits than women did, but both men and women were likely to sexually objectify the costumed women.

These results demonstrate that revealing Halloween costumes contribute to sexualization of women; hence, Halloween parties may be sexually objectifying experiences. Since both men and women sexualized the women in the revealing costumes, Halloween party-goers should reflect on their beliefs about revealing dress. Since dressing in costume on Halloween is popular on university campuses, the degree of sexualization found in this research may be of concern to university administrators, counselors, and sorority and fraternity advisors.

You can read the full article in Fashion and Textiles here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s40691-016-0073-x

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