Ahlin: ‘Sexy’ wrong motivation for Halloween costume
By Jane Ahlin
Our older daughter was 10 and our younger daughter, 7. They were playing with two other girls — also sisters who were the same ages as our daughters — and my husband and I were visiting with the other girls’ parents in their kitchen. Giggling, the four girls announced they were going to do a “show.” Off they went, only to return heavily made up, bracelets and necklaces jangling. The show turned out to be the four girls lip-synching and dancing to Madonna’s hit “Like a Virgin.”
We couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
The point of the story is that in spite of their imitating a pop star whose overt dress and style took sexiness to the point of vulgarity, all four girls grew up to be lovely, well-adjusted women. (Parents of today, take heart. Even the crude exhibitionism of the not-so-talented Miley Cyrus won’t damage well-adjusted children.)
Pop culture is pop culture. Most kids go through a period of being captivated by it, and then they move on. Well, maybe it’s better said that children move on if the offensive messages sent by pop stars aren’t reinforced by everything else around them.
Which brings me today’s Halloween costumes. For young boys, they are fine. Halloween costumes for young girls, however, are uniformly age-inappropriate and reinforce damaging stereotypes of what it means to be a girl. Spend time in the costume aisles of local stores and the overriding theme for girls is clear: first and foremost, be sexy. Little girl and “tween” costumes are smaller versions of costumes for adult women, which are all about exposing legs and cleavage.
If a little boy wants to dress up as a police officer or firefighter, the costumes look like those worn by police officers and firefighters. If a little girl wants to dress up as a police officer or firefighter, she can buy a boy’s costume or end up with the “French maid” version of policing and firefighting. (Oo-la-la, handcuffs for the naughty prisoner.)
A boy vampire wears a long-sleeved white shirt and long black pants and has a great cloak to wave around; a girl vampire also has a cloak, but hers is worn over a low-necked top and mini-skirt with black tulle peeking out like lace. Black fishnet stockings complete the ensemble. And it isn’t only vampires. Weirdly, witch costumes also revolve around black tulle and fishnet. And don’t get me started on the “Twilight Fairy” costumes.
Perhaps we should be relieved that toddler costumes remain unisex and inoffensive — mostly cuddly animal types. However, animal costumes for girls by the time they reach first or second grade carry names, such as “wild li’l kitty.”
The past few years, the dearth of good costumes for girls became clear to me when our granddaughter — now almost as old as her mother was in the Madonna lip-synching episode — wanted to be a pirate. Without exception, pirate costumes available for girls appeared to have been designed by Hugh Hefner.
Somebody is buying these costumes; in fact, considering the unavailability of other choices, a whole host of folks must be buying them. The question becomes whether most young girls are also buying into the sexualized image they imply. We want children to have a healthy attitude toward sexuality, but that isn’t possible if they tie self-worth to being seen as sexy or if they judge other people by their ability to look sexy.
Way back in 1996 when 6-year-old Jon Benet Ramsey was murdered, most of us were shocked when news reports referred to her as a “beauty queen” — a designation from her involvement in pageants for preschool girls. For a brief moment, society was appalled at the sexualizing of little girls in that bizarre universe. Sad to say, anybody who has run across the TLC show “Toddlers and Tiaras” (Honey Boo Boo?) knows that outrage was short-lived.
More recently, we’ve been shocked by high school rape cases in which drunken girls are violated while other kids watch and do nothing except videotape the assault to put on social media.
Maybe Halloween costumes aren’t a big deal, but objectifying girls is.
Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum of
Fargo-Moorhead, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org