Halloween is fast-approaching, and many young women will be attending parties that have a large amount of “sexy (insert noun)s” in attendance. If you’re running late this year, you may notice the requisite prevalence of barely-there costumes in the women’s section as you make your last-minute trip to the party store. And things won’t look that different if you journey through the kids section. “Sexy” costumes are being marketed to younger and younger girls.
Why this is a problem should require no explanation. If an adult woman really wants to dress as a “sexy mouse” for Halloween, she should go for it. (However, I would encourage her to consider implicate gender stereotypes and originality beforehand.) But, a ten-year-old, eight-year-old, or five-year-old may be less likely to understand the implications of dressing in a sexualized costume.
So why are sexualized costumes for children becoming increasingly normalized? Little girls may be easily fooled by aspects of these costumes that are constructed as “pretty.” A kindergartner I recently spoke to had chosen a midriff-bearing outfit because it was pink. (She ended up changing her mind, thankfully.) The fact that girls are so often attracted to “pretty” costumes is indicative of another problem with the seasonal options presented to women and girls. Halloween is the one day of the year when anyone can dress up and embody a character – in short, use their imagination! But Newsweek has predicted that 5,134,868 little girls will be a princess this year. Not even a Disney Princess, who at least has a name and identity. The majority of female costumes sold in stores are nameless characters; a generic princess, witch, or animal. What a way to stifle creativity! These nameless costumes exemplify the way girls are offered limiting versions of femininity centered on looks and sex appeal.
The problem is that girls are not being exposed to enough interesting female figures, whether real or fictional, as whom they would want to dress up. Women’s history does not have significant representation in schools, and in order for girls to find consistently cool female characters in fiction, they need a parent or mentor who will help them look beyond the mainstream. My eight-year-old self may have veered away from Disney, but I would not have rocked the Princess Leia cinnamon buns at the third-grade Halloween party if my older cousin hadn’t introduced me to Star Wars. The media’s influence is strong, but I believe mentoring is stronger. So let’s encourage homemade costumes, imagination, and make-believe. In short, let’s give creative, smart girls the tools they need to be strong for Halloween!