Mom & Pop Culture: Dealing With The Halloween Hangover

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."

A young girl in a 2011 Witch Costume, complete with corset and lace arms. She is standing with her arm on her hip

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.

A picture of the author at 10 years old sticking her tongue out in a more conservative withc 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 costumeone "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

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Comments

8 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Is this for real?

This article really caught my attention because as a college student, I am more than familiar with the idea that Halloween is the "one night to dress like a skank". What really caught my attention was the duplicate costumes of the Kandy Korn witch. Imagine the mom and daughter dressing up like that together. It's almost as if the little girl is her mom's "wing-woman".
I think the only reason a mom would dress her daughter up in something like this is because they think it's cute. But what is cute about portraying your daughter as though she is looking for something more than candy and a night with her friends? Seeing a little girl dressed in a little black dress would more than anything make me question what her mom was thinking. Is the real problem that the child is being influenced by the media...or that their parents permit their children to wear the costumes?

I cannot say how much I agree

I cannot say how much I agree with this whole article. As a mother of a 4 year old boy, I have noticed the same thing. My son is like yours. He thinks that the costumes with built in muscles are weird too. He'd much rather the one that lights up. However, I also don't understand why nearly every costume marketed to adult women has to be provocative. I only want to dress up to take my son out trick-or-treating, not look like a hoochie. But then again, it forces me to be creative and make one myself.

My teenage daughter has in

My teenage daughter has in the past worn pieces of a couple of those sexed-up costumes, along with other items that are more comfortable and less sexualized. Because she's tall, she "aged out" of children's costumes early, and buying costumes has been challenging as a result. Thankfully most of the time she has preferred things which cover her more (Star Trek uniform, for instance), though even some of those are too tight or have strategically-placed holes.

Last year, she did in fact wear the teen version of the Candy Corn Witch (without the dorky hat)--she was a freshman in high school and I hate to say this but it looked amazingly good on her. That's pretty much the one and only time she wore something sexy as originally designed. Even when she wore a corset-like "dark fairy" costume, she wore it over a shirt and leggings rather than bare skin.

She has finally discovered the joy of the home-made costume, so this Halloween she was a Dalek (from Dr. Who).

But we've had lots of conversations about sexualized costumes and done lots of things to avoid wearing them.

I tend to feel hesistent

I tend to feel hesistent about arguments condemning costumes for being "sexy", "slutty", "skimpy" etc. Though you did say it is fine to wear them as an adult, I think that I can't outright condemn them for children either. Though I wouldn't want my child thinking about looking sexy/dressing in sexualized attire, I also don't think it's right to force them to cover up their bodies. The witch costume you gave as an example is a good example of one that is clearly sexualized (due to the bustiers), but other costumes, such as genie costumes, are not (from what I've seen) inherently sexualized. They show the child's stomach, and I don't see anything wrong with that/feel that it's something that needs to be covered. I wore a genie costume as a child with a bare midriff and I don't remember thinking anything of it; that's just what genies wore. I do remember, however, my very very conservative neighbor throwing a fit about it and not letting me come over to play with her daughter because it was "inappropriate", and I remember not understanding why it was inappropriate and thinking that I should feel shame for showing my midriff. Now I'm sure, of course, that you aren't trying to argue that! But I just wanted to point out the other side of it. It's a constant balancing act, like so many things. This time it's between thrusting sex and body-image concerns onto young children and teaching young children that their bodies need to be covered and that they're something to be ashamed of.

I agree...

It's certainly a balancing act, and one that you need to walk carefully. However, in my mind - the situation you described - a genie - seems appropriate for a two piece outfit. In fact, I was a genie myself as a kid. But that's the thing - a genie costume for all intents and purposes is a 2 piece - so it makes sense. When was the last time you saw a witch (in children's tv/books/movie) that wore a corset? Or a candy corn with a short skirt (oh wait...nevermind).

My son ran bare bottomed whenever he could till he was 4. We don't body shame and I think it would be the same if I had a girl. I don't think it's about telling our kids they can't wear costumes that are 2 pieces or show off some skin. I think it's about selling costumes that have a sexualized undertone. Fishnet stockings, corsets, short skirts, etc... within kid's costumes (and then posing the costume models in provocative or adult poses) is just wrong. Unlike adults, kids are not aware of a. the effect these types of clothing are meant to elicit and b.how to handle it if they did get unwanted attention.

There's definitely a difference between a fun costume and one that clearly is sending a sexualized message.

"the ramifications"

I would contend with the article's assertion - or rather that of CNN that the articles is quoting - that one of the "biggest ramifications" of the increasingly sexual costuming of children means the communication "that little girls are sexually appealing," and that "this message has tragic implications for their vulnerability to sexual abuse." The assertion can be dismissed as a non-starter off the bat: does dressing little girls in "babes" really "communicate" that these pre-pubescent children are brimming with sexual appeal, barely contained by that bustier? While the racy and revealing costume designs certainly aim to approximate the "slutoween" design wear that indeed does heighten the sex appeal of fully developed women, does the same formula with little girls produce the same results? Those not previously attracted to little girls suddenly become aroused and see them as a viable sexual object because of this dress up? Certainly, to some, the costuming only produces discomfort - even intensifies the recognition of how young, and sexually undeveloped these girls are, who twist and contort into tightly laced bodices in the hopes of looking "cool" or "grown up," one might suspect. As Ariel Levy points out in her book, Female Chauvanist Pigs, the increasingly sexual dress and behavior of increasingly young girls is linked to these young girls' desire to appear more mature or sophisticated - to be cool or popular - rather than linked to earlier and earlier actual development of sexual desire, or even appeal. But the more disturbing point of the assertion is that these "slutty" Halloween costumes (that will only naturally transform the poor girls into irresistible temptresses of all Hallows Eve, as we've explored) is the embedded assertion that women (or in this case girls) who dress to heighten sexual appeal are laid vulnerable to, essentially, sexual assault, here couched in terms of "sexual abuse" because of the girls' young ages. In the simplest of terms, the assertion "young girls dressed as sluts are more vulnerable to sexual abuse" translates to "adolescent girls, young women, and women, dressed as sluts are more vulnerable to sexual assault." How can feminists completely lambast a L.A. Times piece by Charlotte Allen that cautions women not to dress as sluts because, honestly, that only heightens that chances of sexual attack, and support the link between slutty costumes on young girls heightening the chance of sexual abuse? Perhaps because, child sexual assault has been understood more as a crime of desire than adult sexual assault - clearly understood as a violent play for power not linked to desire as the befuddled Aleen attempts to claim. Still, we must be careful in supporting/suggesting that any way women dress, from pre-pubescent to the elderly edge, influences chances of attack, dare we inadvertently support a culture of victim blaming.

Amen! My problem with these

Amen!
My problem with these sexualized costumes for children is that they simply and sadly shorten childhood. My daughter just had her first birthday. There are plenty of years ahead for pushing envelopes and balancing the line between what is appropriate/modest/"flattering" etc and what is not. I would like her to have as many years as possible free from our culturally inevitable issues surrounding image and body consciousness. I do not appreciate the dissemination of these images and products that would suggest to her that she needs to be in a great hurry to look like a grown-up or put her body on display to be of value. It makes me gag that there are costumes in toddler sizes that I would feel objectified wearing as a grown woman.

Mom & Pop Culture: Dealing With The Halloween Hangover | Bitch

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