The Scariest thing about Halloween: Girl Costumes
We’re getting pretty excited about Halloween at our house! While perusing the aisles of our local Halloween store and checking out costumes online for my son, I couldn’t help but notice the costumes for girls. They were pretty scary. For all the wrong reasons. Literally every costume has a sexy version – firefighters with fishnet stockings. An army cadet called “Major flirt.” And let’s not forget the ever shortening skirt. Since when did Cinderella’s ball gown go above the knee? Even more disturbing are the girls on the packaging, wearing heavy makeup, and posing provocatively. This is definitely selling something…but it’s not Halloween.
We live in a society that sexualizes young girls. This has huge ramifications for our girls, boys and community. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, sexualization has to do with treating other people as “objects of sexual desire.” Sexualization places value primarily on sex appeal, basically physical attractiveness. Children are bombarded with sexy images everyday through television, movies, advertisements, video games, the internet, etc. We have toddlers dressed up as prostitutes for pageants (Toddlers and Tiaras anyone?), Bratz dolls, and thongs for 7 years olds. Children are at risk more than ever.
As you read this, these questions and/or comments may be going through your mind:
What’s the big deal? It’s just a costume! The big deal is that we are teaching girls that appearance and “sexy” behavior is closely tied to their value. The problem with early exposure is that children are presented with information about sexiness that they can’t understand. It confuses them. Plus, they haven’t even begun to develop the cognitive capacity to critique or filter these messages. It can lead girls to judge themselves by how they look, and to see themselves solely as objects.
She’s only 6, this won’t matter when she gets older! According to the APA Task Force, research has shown that sexualization puts girls at risk for eating disorders, low self esteem and depression as adults. Comparing our bodies to ideal images can lead to a host of negative emotions, which inevitably causes lack of confidence, anxiety, and makes us more at risk for poor relationship choices and lack of life satisfaction. So yes, this will matter when she gets older.
I have a boy so I don’t need to worry about this…Right? Sexualizing girls does have negative impact on boys. Boys are bombarded with images of sexualized girls which effects their expectations. ”Girls should look and act sexy.” Valuing girls based superficial appearance can lead to dissatisfaction in relationships later on in life.
But my daughter really wants to be “Major Flirt” for Halloween!! Help your daughter see that real army cadets don’t wear skirts, just like firefighters don’t wear fishnet stockings. If your princess obsessed five year old insists on sparkle then let her have the sparkle! But, let her know that even princesses in dresses can do something like battle a dragon or save the universe. This helps combat the helplessness most princess figures can conjure up. If you have an older child, use Halloween to develop their capacity for social critique. Ask your daughter what she thinks the message is when she looks at the difference between girl and boy costumes. Be curious about why you can always find a nurse costume for a girl but rarely a doctor.
Halloween has evolved over the years and it’s not all for the better. When I was younger you threw a sheet over your head and called yourself a ghost. These days, kids are up against some pretty tough odds. We have to be the ones to step up and not just shield our children from harmful messages but to educate them as well. Stay tuned for my article next week. I’ll be writing additional tips about what you can do to help your kids be media smart about these media messages.
Vicki Chiang, Psy.D. (PSY21136) is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Institute for Girls’ Development in Pasadena, CA. She specializes in working with parents, children and immigrant families in her practice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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