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halloween in hollywood (or, why you should always read the book)

While on exchange at UCLA, I went to a Halloween party dressed as Lolita. In hindsight, it’s the dumbest outfit I’ve ever worn – and that’s including the booty-shorts, body paint and handkerchief I partied in at Burning Man.

I thought I had a good reason for dressing like a pre-teen temptress, and that reason, of course, was a boy. More specifically, an English major/Chicano wrestler who’d spent five minutes talking to me about Nabokov and Humbert Humbert’s twisted love affair with a prepubescent nymphette. Since this big, bearded, beautiful boy lived with a few other big, bearded, beautiful boys in a shack opposite a cemetery, our entire dorm had decided to congregate at their place for Halloween.

Into my bobby socks and micro-playsuit I slipped, and, after whacking on some love heart sunglasses and rouging my cheeks, I strutted into that party like a hyper-sexed infant on a mission. I never even saw the wrestler. Instead, I got college-style drunk, danced with a panda, and eventually fell asleep in someone else’s underwear next to my friend Laura, who was dressed in her Hogwarts best.

I still love that I woke up next to Harry Potter.

The next afternoon, my girlfriends and I dragged ourselves to Denny’s to eat some rubber and try to piece the night together. In classic college style, we had scattered memories, and a tone of photos. Photographic evidence proved we’d made a whole heap of new lady-friends. There were a few scantily clad Pocahontases, a smattering of lycra-bound cats, a sexy nerd and, my personal favourite, a bikini wearing ballerina.

Photo after photo showed girls with big grins and open arms, dancing up a storm and generally loving it sick. Yes, there was skin. Yes, there was cleavage. Yes, these women had chosen to buy into the sexualised, commodified Halloween-dream. But none of us viewed these costumes as anti-feminist, or anti-woman. These were girls who’d chosen to dress up because it was fun, and because they could.

I’m a firm believer that women should be able to wear whatever they want, and in some ways, I think Halloween is a great outlet for that. There are pockets of time allocated to certain constrictions of clothing: workwear, gymwear, getting-coffee-with-your-mates-wear, bar-wear. Sure, laydeez get dressed up for a night out, but (in America especially) it seems that it’s only on Halloween that women feel they can really let loose, bind themselves in leather, blind themselves with false eyelashes, whack on a tail and walk the streets like motherlicking champs, because a) they want to and b) everyone else is doing it. And maybe that’s just one of the hard realities of life. It’s only when everyone else is doing it that it’s okay.

It’s like Cady says in Mean Girls: ‘In Girl World, Halloween is the one night of the year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girl can say anything about it.’

Honestly, I’ve always found this quote confusing. By saying that girls bitch about each other at all other times besides Halloween, Cady makes the holiday sound like a veritable festival of sexual liberation. Do what chu want! Hike that skirt high! Yet Mean Girls presents Girl World Halloween as negative – by dressing like a sluzz-bunny, you’re inevitably going to end up making out with your cousin and grabbing your double-Ds every time it rains.

I do understand that Halloween presents very real, very important issues for women: every year, the holiday raises questions about body image, the negative sexualisation of women in the public sphere, and the commodification of gender and identity. But I like to think that Cady’s statement about Halloween can be read as reflection of a female-pack-mentality that can be and, from my exchange experience, often is, embraced in a constructive, super-fun way.

As always, the problem arises when women dress for other people’s pleasure, not for their own enjoyment. I know that I chose my costume for the wrong reasons. I went to that party as a statutory rape victim – to impress a boy. Dear twenty-one year old self: What. The. Actual. Fuck?

This time of year’s great because there’s a sudden flood of articles promoting unconventional Halloween costumes for women tired of the Wonder Woman routine. One website, Take Back Halloween!, is well worth a look. Suggestions range from mermaids (like Lasiren, the Haitian goddess of the sea who carried a golden trumpet to play her siren song), to ethically questionable warriors (like Ching Shi, a female pirate with a 40,000 strong army). Or, if mythology is more your thing, there’s also Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt, and Morrigan, an Irish raven goddess who hovers over battlefields waiting to feast on the bodies of fallen soldiers. Smart, strong, violent, with awesome historical kudos? Brilliant!

But also, sexy cats are cool.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe you should just wear whatever the hell you want to wear this Halloween. Just do it for you.

And for Christ’s sake, read the fucking book before you put your playsuit on.

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