In seventh grade, the popular girls in my class convinced us to vote for a class Halloween theme: “Bunnies.” Not woodland creatures, not Peter Rabbit, but “Bunnies,” full stop, with the exact connotation that I’m sure first leapt to your mind. Then, on the day of the annual school Halloween parade, the popular girls, clad in leotards, tights, collars, cuffs and bunny ears, shivered in the cold gym air conditioning spilling out of the door as they lined up outside waiting to enter.
They weren’t the only ones shivering. In accordance with the theme, I’d thrown away the ballerina costume I’d worn for years and instead donned a white sundress and black high heels that would have been modest had I not paired them with bunny ears. In the seconds before the popular girls entered the doors of the gym (they, of course, were going to lead the parade), one of them stopped, leaned against the door and began to wring her cuffs against her wrists. She looked tearfully at her friends. “I don’t want to be called a slut,” she said. Her panic seized the rest of them, and they all simultaneously backed out. A less popular girl (me, as it happens) had to be called to walk arm-in-arm with the cutest boy in the class at the head of the parade. The boy was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and bunny ears, and looked generally unconcerned by his sudden change in partners.
I can’t tell you exactly why I decided to dress as a sexualized, albeit somewhat toned-down “Bunny.” I wasn’t in the popular clique. But I was a 12-year-old girl, and I suspect wearing the costume made me feel “sexy” by extension.
In the years since that Halloween, I have donned more modest costumes. I have gone as a daisy, a giant foam banana and a ghost, though most years I’ve chosen not to dress up at all. Once the “slutty” option was placed on the table, choosing a Halloween costume became a annual dilemma.
If I wanted a modest costume, I’d have to make it myself — almost all of the costumes on the market include some sort of “cute” or “naughty” tag in their name. Making my own costume would mean it would look like a kindergartner’s best attempt at art. And in all honesty, I knew that the other advantage of being, say, a “naughty clownfish” was that it would garner the sort of attention that banal sexiness always seems to (all in all, life doesn’t change much past the seventh grade). A “naughty clownfish” wasn’t just a naughty clownfish, it was play-pretend at being labeled an “attractive” woman in the same narrow, traditionally defined way as a Playboy Bunny.
That, of course, is the trouble with “slutty” costumes. By wearing them, you’re actively participating in the restriction of your own attractiveness. Under normal circumstances, many different traits determine one’s attractiveness: intelligence, originality, gregariousness, etc. But when you don a black corset and stick a fluffy white tail on your bum, you’re banking only on your looks — and the cavalier way you display those looks — to place you in the “attractive” category.
In her infamous 1963 article “I Was a Playboy Bunny,” feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem detailed the short period she spent working in the Playboy Club. At her first interview, she attempted to hand her interviewer an elaborate, made-up personal history and resume that she thought the club would find enticing. The interviewer “gave it back with hardly a glance. “‘We don’t like our girls to have any background,’” she said firmly. “‘We just want you to fit the Bunny image.’”
Looking back to the 7th grade, I’m not so sure the girl wringing her cuffs at the gym door was just worried about being called a slut. The Halloween parade would last for ten minutes, but the pictures of it would be in the yearbook until the end of time. Nowadays, it seems harmless to dress up in a “slutty” costume for one Halloween night, but the Facebook pictures will last. And no one wants to be in “the Bunny Image” forever.
Wright is a Plan II and biology junior from San Antonio.