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"Miss Representation" and Sexy Halloween Costumes: The Best and Worst of October by Anna March

The Best:

Miss RepresentationI am in love with Miss Representation.

Miss Representation is a documentary – which will be shown on Oprah’s OWN Network on Thursday, October 20 – as well as a call-to-action organization/movement that is tackling head-on the portrayal of women by the media and the message it sends to young girls.

The film trailer so moved me that I cried — and I am not one for bursting into tears.

“You can’t be what you can’t see” is the simple idea at the heart of Miss Representation.   We need to change what we see in order to change what our children will become.

In the film, writer/director Jennifer Siebel Newsom interweaves interviews with prominent women like Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem and Condoleeza Rice with alarming statistics and stories from teenage girls.

Visit the website to learn more, and mark your calendars to watch the film on October 20. Lois and her daughter are in Chicago right now, watching the movie and participating in the after-show TV discussion with Rosie O’Donnell. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

The Worst:

Trick or treat? Look, there’s a sex-worker at the door! Oh, that’s not a sex-worker; that’s a little girl in one of this year’s costumes — all of which seem to be peep-show versions of themselves.

For instance, girls aren’t wizards; they are “naughty” wizards.

Girls aren’t devils; they are “red hot” devils.

And let’s not overlook this gem — “Major Flirt

In a word:  Yuck.

It’s even worse when you look at costumes for teen girls — the sexiest maids, referees and sailors you’ve ever seen.

Party City lists in its “Girls’ Careers” Costume section: cheerleaders (4 types!), starlet, Barbie dance-diva, princess gypsy. Just the aspirations colleges are looking for in their applicants. Oh, and doctor and zookeeper — in case you were thinking that “career” actually meant, you know, a career. Boys, on the other hand, get to be police officers, firefighters, astronauts, and pilots. And not “naughty” or “hot” ones.

Halloween seems to be the perfect time to both reinforce gender stereotypes and promote the over-sexualization of girls — and there’s even candy! Not that we want girls to eat that candy, of course. One appalling costume that has been removed from most retailers due to public outcry:  Anna Rexia.

It’s enough to make you want to move to Australia, a terrific country where they don’t observe Halloween.

I asked writer Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water, what she thought of all this. Her response? “Increasingly, the mediazation of civilian society is sculpting girls into sexualized, vapid, glamour dolls. The message is this: girl humans need to look like television, movie, video game and comic figures which, just like good old Barbie, means “Sex it up, honey, or you just don’t count.” My Halloween costumes as a kid: a bum, a ghost with blood all over the sheet, and my personal favorite: the ham girl from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”


Anna’s fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in Salon and other publications. She writes the “Ink on the Tracks” playlist column at Connotation Press. Her novel, The Diary of Suzanne Frank, is forthcoming.  She’d love to hear your suggestions, so feel free to reach out to her on Facebook. And if you missed her column last month, you can read it here.


  1. I think this is a great article. I completely agree…However I can’t help, but notice that to the left of the article you have an ad for Costume Express depicting a rather sexy costume for little girls. Really?! I’m wondering where it ends.

  2. I am going down to my TV to schedule the recording of Miss Representation right after I finish writing this note. I plan to watch the program with my 10 year old daughter, who has recently shown signs of falling into the trap that being sexy is something to strive for. It makes me wonder though, where is the line drawn between wanting to look your best and focusing too much attention on it?

    Our patriarchal society promotes sexualized images of women as the pinnacle of success in conjunction with assigning female intelligence and leadership as unattractive, to keep women in the minority roles of power. Fortunately the tide is turning and I am excited to witness and participate in this major shift. Thank you for highlighting this issue!

    Now about those Halloween costumes… the advertisement directly to the left of the article displayed an image of a teenage girl in an albeit covered up costume, but the flirty pout on her face is precisely the point! I don’t see the photo of the costumed boy with a ‘come hither’ look.

    I will continue lead by example for my daughter. Let’s all put our focus on the positive’s out there for our young girls and make many many more of them!

  3. Hmmm….sitting on the fence a bit on this one. Having 3 sons and a daughter who are all now in their 20’s, I have been through a lot of Halloweens. I would say that I cringed equally when my sons would want costumes that always included a weapon….a gun, a knife, a sword. ( they never wanted to be doctors or firemen!) they wanted to dress up in the goriest of costumes with nails coming out of the skull and blood dripping everywhere…. because that is what Halloween is about, fantasy and a time to be what you will never be in reality. ( ie. A depraved Freddy Kruger type) They grew up and are all sweet, law-abiding men…..I think that many a young girl who wore skimpy outfits on Halloween, my daughter included,(though she was a teenager not a child when she wore it) grew up and pursued careers as doctors and lawyers. Who wants to dress up as a lawyer or a doctor when that is in all probability something they can actually become. My daughter just finished graduate school in criminology….so not sure if the skimpy Miss Tequila outfit had much of an impact. When I go to Halloween parities as an adult…it is the same thing…middle aged women are all in these crazy sexy outfits and men are usually pimps…and these are the doctors,lawyers and scientists!!! It’s all about the fantasy…..

  4. Hi Laurie — Thanks so much for taking the time to read and for your comments. Good point on the fantasy aspect of it all…….I think the issue isn’t the Halloween costumes in and of themselves. As Deb Tolman and Lyn Mikel Brown wrote in the Huffington Post last year:

    “The constant visual cues suggesting there are only two options for what girls can be, not just on Halloween but every other day of the year, reflect a media and marketing machine that pits one type against the other, even as it sides with the consumer version of sexy. The reality, of course, is that there really are more choices. Girls can be whatever they want to be, but they have to be encouraged to find out what that is, and the media messages with which they are bombarded make that a harder task each passing day….Halloween can be just one more reminder that a girl has to be all sexy or she’s nothing, or it can be an opportunity to explore what lies between the extremes.”

    Thanks again!


  5. Here’s one for you: I dressed as the Princess Fiona, complete with golden tiara and low-cut, skin-tight emerald green satin, gold-trimmed gown, complete with French bra … Very Sexy! My husband was Shrek, outstanding! People yelled, “Hey, Shrek!!!” And looked at me. “Who are YOU?” !!! Oh, well; win some/lose some! I was happy my Shrek was enjoying such a great time! Plus he (we!) won four contests!
    P.S. I loathe blood, gore and violence; my sons were not wearing that junk. And the Daughterperson was closely supervised in that skanky outfit! Bottom line: Be the parent!

  6. If all people truly played on an equality based and respectful playing field, then I’d find myself more in agreement with the idea of Halloween being a fun and harmless fantasy. Since girls and women are routinely marginalized and violated around the world in every culture, Halloween and the attendant hot buttons about the costumes is bound to be at issue since they are by definition the very essence of a visual onslaught of depravity, excess, gore, sex, etc — for some, what’s not to love? But for many, I think it conjures up all the ways in which our culture and human civilization still have so very far to go particularly with regard to gender. Now, you’ll have to excuse me, while I try to fit into the little french maid outfit sans underwear….ok, just kidding. One thing is certain at least for me, my sense of humor is crucial to keeping me feeling somewhat sane in this crazy world. And you?

  7. Buffy Joseph says:


    Fantasy, yes, but it doesn’t have to be SEXY fantasy. And it shouldn’t be sexy fantasy for pre-teens. And why are the costumes that are not sexy (dr, astronaut, princess) ) ONLY in sexy versions at the stores. (One of the reasons I avoid store bought Halloween costumes).

    — Buffy

  8. Hi Jane — Oh dear. You’re right, that ad does seem problematic! I will pass it on to Lois at SSS and see if anything can be done. Thanks. Best, Anna

    • Wow, live and learn, you guys. Just got back — FROM SEEING “MISS REPRESENTATION” WITH ROSIE!! — and was sort of shocked to come back to that ad accompanying the article! The Google ads, which we have tried to set parameters for, pull from the subject matter of the article and this one seems to have gotten a little too literal. We are mortified that this would show up here — it is so not us — and will research to see how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Apparently, it is really hard to get away from this kind of advertising. Jeez, proof once again that this movie is right on target. Sorry, everyone.

  9. Hi Katharine — Thanks for the great story and for your keen observations about parenting. That’s a great point, the need for parents to set limits! Best, Anna

  10. Hi KG — Thanks for your wise and funny comments! You are quite right that a sense of humor is important, especially when addressing such important issues! Best to you, Anna

  11. Hi Buffy — You raise some great points! Thanks for taking time to read and comment! Best, Anna

  12. About my daughter: Finishing college, she met a modeling agent, who promised her a contract and flight to Milan, for international high-fashion runway modelling. She called, to ask my thoughts. I said, “Well, it’s a gift from God to look like Uma Thurman, be 6′ tall, and have natural red hair. Do it! I know your dream is to do research work in the jungles of Costa Rica (read: bugs, rain, panthers, snakes). Do it for two years; you will have enough money for the rest of your life.”
    She called a week later: “Mom. I told that modelling agent my decision.” “Yes? What did you tell him?” “I said I thought that was a reprehensible sexist thing to do, and he should take a hike!”
    Well, okay, then! I’ve reared a strong daughter, one who makes good decisions for herself.

  13. Hi Brook,

    Thanks for you comments and for your enthusiasm! It’s great to hear from you. It sounds like you are doing a great job mom-ing your daughter thorough the difficult waters — bravo to you. I hope you both enjoy the film tonight! Best, Anna

  14. Thanks, Lois!

  15. Katharine,

    GREAT story about your daughter…thanks for sharing it! She sounds terrific! Best, Anna

  16. Laurie Mika – Somehow, as a frequent medical patient, I find it even more horribly depressing that adult male doctors — who may be treating me — fantasize themselves as pimps. I’m having major surgery in December. I’m hoping that the surgical team (the lead surgeon will definitely be a man) are not standing there holding the retractors, wishing they were elsewhere selling, rather than rearranging, the body of some woman.

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