There Were No Sexy Nurses at the First Halloween

My favourite holiday of the year is Halloween. As a child I would have nightmares in the summer about it being October 31, and not having a costume. Luckily, I had a mother who could handle any costume request I had, with her arts and crafts wizardry. Never once, however, did I ask her to make me a slutty nurse’s outfit. Or ask if I could go as a French maid. Never did I think, ‘I’ll get her to make a short dress and I’ll put on wings and call myself a fairy.’  Or add a headband with ears and be a cat.

The commercialization of Halloween can be traced back to the first mass production of costumes in the 1930’s. There, on department store racks were costumes of ghosts, monsters, witches and devils – things  that scare, things that are unimaginable! Nothing that was, well, this:

Ms Lollipop Halloween Costume

Ms Lollipop Halloween Costume

Enter Ms. Lollipop!

History (or at least my Google search) did not record when costumes for girls and women, went astray. And it isn’t just women’s costumes. On a recent trip to a Halloween outlet store, there were lots of costumes I saw in the adults section, made into smaller versions for kids.  Is there a need for an elementary school girl to wear an off the shoulder short dress, with wings, to her class party?

Anna Rexia Halloween Costume

Anna Rexia Halloween Costume

I have to wonder how that is producing strong, independent, confident women, when their classmates are (hopefully) in cloaks as Hermione Granger at Hogwarts, or a witch covered in green makeup with fake warts.  Have we ever thought that the “cute, Lady of the Cards” outfit (which is again an adult costume of short dress, with an apron of card symbols on it, made into a miniature version for children) could be the gateway costume that has the same children, turning into a young woman and wearing this to a university party?

And I don’t blame the Halloween stores, they are doing their job – reacting to a demand for product. I do think we need to look inwards. I spoke with a mom who rather than fight with her preteen, let her go as a French maid, trick or treating.

Toddlers and Tiaras

Toddlers and Tiaras

What about the mom on “Toddlers and Tiaras” who thought it was cute to dress her young child up as the hooker from “Pretty Woman”?

We, the adults can make sure that young girls aren’t influenced by the costumes they see, or WANT. Halloween as we know it has always been a chance to be something we are not – we can’t be flying witches, or ghosts that haunt in the night. Only a select few will ever be princesses, and the chance to dress like a lobster, rabbit, mouse is hard to pass up.

If your daughter wants to be a policewoman, or nurse or astronaut this Halloween, let’s encourage it! But let’s not hike up the hemlines of the costume while lowering the necklines. Guides and Pathfinders are at a critical age self-acceptance, let’s not be the adults who would rather the “cute, modern, non-fight inducing costumes” be a cinder block in that pathway for them.

Join me in encouraging them that this one night is about the fantasy of being something we aren’t, while still being the strong, confident young women they are underneath! 

Concerned about offending someone with your costume? This article about racist costumes is worth the read too:‘Racist’ Halloween costumes stir debate. CBC news. Retrieved October 27, 2011.

The author in her costume, a table,  at age 10:

Guest Blogger Sara in her table costume, age 10

Guest Blogger Sara in her table costume, age 10

By guest blogger Guider Sarah of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Check out her own blog ‘Sarah Smells the Roses‘, as well as her blog posts for Girl Guides of Canada:

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13 Responses to There Were No Sexy Nurses at the First Halloween

  1. Marcy says:

    Thank you for this, it is so true!

  2. Laura says:

    Hallelujah! Now, I just hope enough parents see this!

  3. Tracy says:

    here’s a great website:

    • Tracy! This is a great resource. We’re going to try and share it as a great Gender Equity resource. We only think about Halloween and questionable costumes this time of year, but this is part of a bigger issue, isn’t it? Thanks for posting (and reading) our blog!

  4. Lena says:

    I completely agree with this for young kids, but I also think it adds to the problem when you call short dresses and what not “slutty”. As a teen who has suffered with very low self esteem, I think that is really important to be able to feel cute, pretty, or even sexy without having to think that others are calling you a “slut”, “whore”, “chav” or other derogatory terms. When these words start to be thrown around then even the strong confident teens will begin to feel bad about themselves.

  5. Katherine says:

    Tina Fey wrote that scene in mean girls about this very thing:

    “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy.
    In Girl World, 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. The hard-core girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears.”

  6. Lena, thanks so much for comment. I apologize for using the term in the post. I found it hard to narrow the post down, because there is so much that can be said on the topic. You are completely right though. In Mean Girls, it is Tina Fey who reminds the girls (and us) that we “…all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

    Thanks everyone for the comments!

  7. This is a great blog post with over 415 reads in one day! Congrats and thanks to guest blogger Sarah for writing such a topical post!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I just find the “Anna Rexia” constume completly riduclous. Would we have a cancer costume? I should hope not. It’s an illness, it shouldn’t be the brunt of jokes.

  9. Jen says:

    Excellent post & so true. As my guide unit grows, it’s troubling to see some of the media influences starting to wear off.these are the same girls that commented “Santa isn’t real. What are we, 3?” at our Christmas party. Enter all the Self Esteem and Because I’m a Girl and Girl EmPower projects and materials! There can never be too many in our program!

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