As a kid, Halloween is pretty much the Best Holiday Ever. As an adult with a young child? Halloween starts to become pretty scary. And I'm not talking hidden-razors-in-your-candy bar scary.
Every year, about a month or two before Halloween, our house starts getting costume catalogues in the mail. I've never signed up for these wastes of paper and have no clue how we began getting them, but they never fail to arrive in my mailbox. Some of the costumes are totally fine and lovely. I mean, how can anyone find fault in an adorably furry lion costume for a baby? Baby sushi? Yes, please. But the further I flip through the catalogue, the more uneasy I get. Do all the branded costumes upset me? Sure. I absolutely hate how companies try to squeeze every last penny out of parents by marketing characters wherever they can (costumes, lunch boxes, clothing, toys, food, etc...). But, in this instance it's not the Elmos and Buzz Lightyears that make me cringe.
Instead, it's the way that Halloween has devolved to the point where companies are marketing sexualized versions of costumes to toddlers, young kids, and tweens. In contrast to the age-old witch costume of long black dress and hat, there are versions with bustiers (for girls with nothing yet to boost!) and lace arm "warmers."
By contrast, here I am as a witch: (the dress goes from neck to below my knees) in 1990. Why yes, the attitude was part of the costume.
I'm not sure what a "Ravager" is, but it apparently involves short skirts, fishnet stockings and a buckle corset. The "Spongebabe Costume" costume takes all the guess work out of it. They don't even attempt to pretend it's anything less than it is.
It doesn't stop there. Many of these costumes go out of their way to make skirts shorter than necessary, create the illusion of cleavage/busts where none will be for a few more years, and in general, sell a little sex to those way too young to fully grasp the concept. Even the ads themselves are attempting to sell sex along with dress-up. Non-existent hips jut out, painted lips purse and pout, all in the hopes of selling these costumes that have no place on little bodies.
I have no qualms with adults wanting to use Halloween as a time to strip down and sex it up. If a sexy kitty or nurse is your thing, go for it! I'd appreciate a little more effort and diversity from costume companies that market to adults, but at least adults have the ability to understand what they're choosing to be. An adult understands the meaning behind a "sexy candy corn costume" (and yes, that actually exists). But why do companies feel it is alright to try and sell kiddy versions of the same thing?
Whatever happened to allowing kids to be kids? When did this need to sexualize costumes at younger and younger ages happen? I still remember my mother forcing me to wear a turtleneck underneath my genie costume at age 8. Yet, it seems like skirts that barely cover bums, sheer or fishnet stockings and corset-like tops are the norm for costumes geared toward young girls.
CNN recently reported on this phenomenon as well. But why did it take having a reporter actually experience this with her daughter to have a large media outlet finally start talking about it? However the article came to be, they zeroed in on one of the biggest ramifications of these sorts of costumes:
"Dressing girls like grown women for Halloween communicates that they have the sexuality of adults, in the bodies of children," says Teresa Downing-Matibag, an assistant professor of sociology at Iowa State University. "While little girls themselves likely have very little awareness of adult or even adolescent sexuality, or what sex is really about, the adults who are seeing them on the streets do. We are also communicating to adults that little girls are sexually appealing, and this message has tragic implications for their vulnerability to sexual abuse."
Boys aren't immune either. While nobody is marketing "sexy cowboys" (yet), there are still some costumes out there that promote body ideals like overly developed muscles to young boys. My son wanted to be Superman for Halloween this year (actually, he wanted to be Superman dressed as a pirate, but we still needed a Superman costume). We ended up at a big box store, staring at the various superhero costumes. One was a basic Superman costume that could be worn over clothing. It had the emblem on the chest and the cape attached to the back. The other version of Superman (the more expensive one, actually) had foam muscles built into the costume.
Superman wasn't the only costume that had gotten a little injection of the juice. Spiderman and Batman also had dual versions of the costume—one "regular" and one promoting this ideal version of what the male body should look like. It may be more subtle than a "Sexy Kitten" costume, but these pumped up versions of costumes for young boys still present their own set of issues. Thankfully, my son chose to go with the regular costume, loudly declaring the fake muscles on the other one as "kind of weird." And indeed, he wore his Superman costume proudly on Halloween, (and around town for ice cream in the week before) infusing his own brand of creativity into it with structural homages to Batman and vampires as well.
Halloween is a time to bust out that creativity, play into the fantasy, and eat a ton of candy. It's not a time to push adult sexuality or hyped-up ideas of ideal bodies onto young kids. I'd rather by scared on Halloween by ghosts and goblins than by thoughts of little kids running amok in overly sexualized costumes.
Previously: Serviing Up A Feminist Parenting Perspective