October 20, 2013

Halloween event pushes back against sexy costumes

A 2007 study by the American Psychological Association linked the sexualization of girls with a variety of negative outcomes, a Colby professor says.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Jackie Dupont, 31, of Waterville, learned something about sexy Halloween costumes when she was an 18-year-old college freshman.

click image to enlarge

Alison Stabins, 11, center, dressed as an elephant, and her mother, Amy, dressed as Tardis from Dr. Who, wait for the start of the Freaky 5K Fun Run organized by Hardy Girls Healthy Women on Saturday at Colby College.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

click image to enlarge

Nearly 200 costume-wearing runners make their way down Mayflower Hill Road at Colby College in the Freaky 5K Fun Run organized by Hardy Girls Healthy Women on Saturday. The fun run was started to help draw girls away from scantily clad Halloween characters and toward scary and creative costume designs.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Now the memory makes her uncomfortable.

When she was invited to a “cowboys and Catholic schoolgirls” theme party, she wanted to fit in and dressed in the appropriate costume, little plaid skirt included.

The boys at the party, friends and strangers alike, behaved differently. Even those she trusted, who had never acted inappropriately around her, suddenly were making crude sexual comments and touching her.

“My male friends had never treated me this way before,” she said. “I was like, ‘Just because I’m dressed this way, you’re crossing some boundaries.’”

Now Dupont is one of several leaders at Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a Maine-based advocacy group, who organized the fifth annual Freaky 5K Fun Run, which drew about 200 runners Saturday to the Colby College campus, dressed in costumes that were not sexually overt.

There were no sexy witch, sexy cat, sexy pirate, sexy angel, or sexy nurse outfits, but there were witches in skirts that reached the floor, pirates without cleavage-revealing bustiers, and cat outfits that didn’t rely on fishnet stockings or high heels.

Dupont, who hasn’t touched a schoolgirl costume in years, was dressed as a pirate. “I’m the captain,” she said, cutlass in hand.

Lyn Mikel Brown, a co-founder of Hardy Girls and a Colby education professor, was wearing a full-bodied bee costume with “Make Honey, Not War” written on the chest. Brown said a 2007 study by the American Psychological Association linked the sexualization of girls with a variety of negative outcomes. When girls put more energy into their appearance, she said, they experience more depression, lower self-esteem, more eating disorders and lower grades.

Ashley Lahoud, of Hardy Girls, said the run was meant to offset an ongoing trend toward sexier female costumes being marketed to girls as young as 3.

“You see girls just out of diapers and being sold thigh-high boots and fishnets and makeup and the wigs and really sexualized things,” she said. “They were seeing this as the only way they could express their creativity.”

Dupont wasn’t the only woman at the event who looks back at college Halloween costume choices with some level of regret.

Christine Stevens, a woman in her 30s, looked appropriately fierce in a Viking helmet with pigtails and a shirt that read “We are warriors.”

As a young girl, her costumes, Raggedy Ann or Pippi Longstocking, were modest. But when she reached college, she said, it wasn’t unusual for her to dress as a bunny or a cowgirl.

Theresa Petzoldt, of Vermont, and Becky Forgrave, of Washington, both 21-year-old Colby students, were dressed as mad scientists in long white laboratory coats and rubber gloves.

Petzoldt said at college, there is peer pressure to wear costumes with low-cut tops and short skirts. Last year, she dressed up as Athena, goddess of wisdom, in stiletto heels.

“I think it’s marketing and advertising,” Petzoldt said. “Sex sells, so you can sell a sexy Halloween costume a lot easier than you can sell a nonsexualized costume.”

Now Petzoldt said she respects those who choose to dress sexily on Halloween, as long as they have options and make that decision. “When there’s no choice, then it’s a problem,” she said.

To evade peer pressure, she said, she sometimes has to come up with creative solutions that allow her to participate in fun events without compromising herself.

She recently attended a white trash-themed party in which women were expected to come in short-shorts and revealing tops. Petzoldt went in a nice dress, a twist that acknowledged the theme by being in direct opposition to it.

Bill Green, a construction manager from Clinton who was wearing canine ears and a furry tail as part of his big bad wolf outfit, said the message is equally important for men. “Women and men, it doesn’t matter; people don’t need to look a certain way to be treated a certain way,” he said.

He said he shared information about the event with a co-worker whose 8-year-old daughter had asked to dress up in a midriff-baring Miley Cyrus costume.

Dupont said she’s not suggesting that it’s wrong to dress up in a sexy outfit, or one that is based on gender stereotypes, like a fairy or a princess.

But, she said, it’s important that the girl inside the costume asserts herself within that role.

“You can be a princess, but be an active princess,” she said. “You know? Defend your kingdom.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:

mhhetling@centralmaine.com

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