It’s that time of year again: the time you decorate your porch with ghosts and spooky scarecrows. You watch the horror movies that cycle through after primetime TV. You carve faces into pumpkins your kids chose themselves. You buy itty-bitty pieces of chocolate in bulk to hand out to trick-or-treaters . . . or eat by yourself when nobody is looking. You go to the costume store and try to find your little girl a costume that doesn’t objectify her or make her look older than her age. Oh, wait — those hardly exist. As a parent of two very young daughters, I am appalled by some of the costume choices out there for kids.
To illustrate this point, I’m going to tell you a story. Let’s set the mood: we’re sitting around a campfire, and I’m holding the flashlight so that it casts eerie shadows on my high cheekbones and perfectly-sculpted chin. (What? This is my story, ok!) The sun is setting, the campfire is dwindling and you’re hanging on to my every word. Are you ready for the story? Ok, here it goes:
Once upon a time, I was in college and I loved going to Halloween parties. I would go to the big mega-box stores and choose the sluttiest, skimpiest costume I could squeeze myself into. Bad cop? Sign me up. Playboy Bunny? Ohhhh, yeah. Scantily-clad referee? Hey… no harm, no foul, right? After I chose my costume, I would frolic about in the night with my other barely-dressed friends getting all the attention we could just because—well, just because we could. The end.
Anti-climactic? Maybe, but I do actually have a point. Look, I was an adult when I chose those costumes. While dressing myself that way was just one of a few bad decisions I made during my college years, it was just that—a decision I consciously made because I thought that’s what I needed to do to get people — AKA boys — to notice me. I’m older and wiser now, of course, and things have changed. Now, I have daughters and I prefer dressing in baggie, Wookie-like costumes for warmth. My kids, though, are not old enough yet to understand the implications of their choices like I was when I ran around in a sexy cop outfit. They don’t know what it all means. When most Halloween costume options in the kid aisle all look a certain way, they formulate the opinion that is the norm — it’s not, and it’s heartbreaking.
The thought of my innocent little three-year-old wearing some of those things one day makes me physically ill. And, seeing all the Toddlers And Tiaras-esque booty shorts and form-fitting, sequined gowns for sale in the Halloween section makes me cringe. Can’t she be a kitty cat with longer pants? Why does the cheerleader costume have to be so tiny? Why does the police officer costume for a preschooler come with a skirt? I don’t know any officers who give traffic tickets in miniskirts, male or female. It just seems impractical.
Of course parents have the final say in what their children will be allowed to wear and do, but retailers and the media have a profound impact on consumer behavior and body image. Today, my oldest is wavering between being a butterfly or a talking pizza. (No, seriously.) Tomorrow, she may want to be something else. I’ve always said that my girls can be anything they want to be, and this especially goes on Halloween. My hope as a mother is to guide them toward decent and innocent choices for as long as I still can, which may mean steering clear of the costume aisles for a few years.