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Trend of Sexy Halloween Costumes for Young Girls is Downright Frightening, Say Moms

Kate M. Jackson
The Patriot Ledger
October 27, 2009

In ads for Halloween costumes, a coven of corseted witches gives their best come-hither stare. Sexy swashbucklers pose provocatively alongside frisky French maids and vampire vixens. While racy Halloween costumes are nothing new, these costumes are for young girls, and many of them are available starting in 4T.

From big-box stores and party shops to online and print catalogs, sexy costumes are offered at increasingly younger ages each year, according to sociologists and psychologists who follow child-marketing trends. Many parents say they long for the days when their biggest compromises involved wearing bulky coats over costumes on chilly Halloween eves. Now, some say they find themselves in discussions over why lacy garter belts are inappropriate for 6-year-olds.

Kerry Baldwin, 36, of Hanover, said she was disoriented at an iParty store a few weeks ago while costume shopping for her two daughters, Abbey, 7, and Callahan, 2, and son Keegan, 6.

"I thought I'd wandered into Frederick's of Hollywood," said Baldwin. "I didn't know the devil wore a mini-skirt. Even an army girl costume was named 'Major Flirt.' What is that about?"

Baldwin said she wasn't prepared to explain to her second-grader why she wouldn't buy some of the sexier costumes.

"I just told her, 'Oh, you'll be too cold in that,' but the explanations get more complicated when the parent down the street is allowing her young daughter to wear the sexy costumes."

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood in Boston, said corporate marketers are increasingly marketing to girls as young as preschool age as if they were teenagers. Linn, who also authored "The Case for Make Believe" and "Consuming Kids," said much of it is based on a marketing strategy known as CAGOY, or "Children are Getting Younger Older."

"It's a marketing phenomenon, created by marketers, based on an assumption that children are acquiring the trappings of maturity earlier. There is no evidence of that," she said.

Linn said there is evidence, however, that the commercialization of childhood exacerbates serious issues like childhood obesity, eating disorders, low self-esteem and precocious sexual activity. It also interferes with imagination and creative play.

Because of aggressive marketing, many of young girls' costume favorites are often limited to the Disney princesses or Hannah Montana, she said.

Also, traditional costumes like witches and pirates are increasingly sexed-up. Today even pumpkins can be provocative: Take "Pumpkin Spice," a costume that features a sparkly orange mini-dress and go-go boots (sizes start at 0 to 9 months).

Linn said it's not necessary to get into too much detail with younger children about why you're saying no, just simply say, "We don't do this in our family."

She also reminds parents that if girls are allowed to wear sexy costumes at age 5, imagine what they'll be expecting at age 8.

"We should be sending the right messages to our children, allowing them to be kids as long as they can," said Shannon Heritage, 39, of Kingston, who said she struggles every year to find her daughter Tatum, 10, a costume that isn't too revealing or sexy. "I've been very lucky that my daughter has been understanding when I tell her 'no' to certain costumes. This year we are making ours. We couldn't even seem to find a simple poodle skirt."

Another issue is that society may be becoming more desensitized to these kinds of costumes, according to Jean Kilbourne, co-author of "So Sexy, So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect their Kids."

"It's been happening for a long time. Some kids have never lived in a world that hasn't marketed to them. Some parents have even gotten used to it. But the fact is that kids are being sexualized at younger and younger ages," Kilbourne said. "Boys costumes tend to get more violent, while the girls get more sexy."

She suggests that parents talk to each other about how they feel about the costumes and why.

"If you can make allies and reach a consensus on costumes, that can be very helpful for everyone," she said.

Kilbourne said it's also important to be consistent with your child year-round, not just on Halloween night.

Jill Daly, 43, of Kingston said she is "pretty strict" about her 10-year-old daughter Cameron's clothing choices, and Halloween is no exception.

"Last year I had to negotiate on a witch costume. I made her wear leggings under the skirt and I bought a size bigger in the top. I keep reinforcing it is not appropriate for girls that age to be wearing clothing like that," Daly said.

"At my daughter's age, I was still wearing smocked dresses, and now we have witch Halloween costumes with half-shirts and mini-skirts. Whatever happened to Dorothy and carrying Toto?"

Apparently today’s Dorothy is wearing a mini-skirt, lacy thigh-highs and platform ruby slippers.


 

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