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What’s the deal with female Halloween costumes?

The scene: a suburban Chicago Halloween costume store. I ventured in this past Saturday with my 11-year-old step son…crowded…loud…very high energy.

He wanted to be a scary jester or a ghoul. Fairly quickly, we found a sufficiently ghoulish head-to-toe costume for him in the boys section. We took a peek at the girls’, women’s and men’s costumes just for fun. With his innocent, inquisitive and highly observant mind, he asked the question.

“Kimber, why are all the girl costumes slutty?”

Good question and astute observation…although you would have to be a box of rocks to miss the pattern—there were literally NO women’s costumes that were sexually neutral. Apparently north suburban Chicago women who buy their costumes at Halloween stores have no other option than the sexed-up version. This includes sexy police woman, sexy baby (seriously?), sexy school girl, sexy warrior princess, sexy football player (wearing high heels of course), and on and on. My step-daughter wanted to be a ninja, and wisely chose to make her costume at home. Otherwise, she’d have been looking in the men’s section to find a costume that matched her style and power!

After seeing year after year after year of it, I’m afraid most of us have come to expect it. Whereas male costumes were colorful, creative, scary, and covered the body (yes, it is cold outside in the fall), ALL the woman costumes and the majority of girl costumes were sexy, sheer, short, or nearly non-existent.

Evidently, in today’s society, a girl can’t dress up like “just a nurse,” instead she has to be a naughty nurse. Although 20 years ago, a witch might have been an old hag with warts and an over-sized nose, today she must look “hotter” than her caldron.

This was a good opportunity to step back and thoughtfully answer my step-son’s question. He’s delightfully still at an age where this dichotomy does not make sense to him, and in fact grosses him out.

Disgust (and anger and fear) is an appropriate response to sexual abuse. As a culture, we carry many characteristics of a sexually abused child. It is estimated that around 20% of adults experienced some form of sexual abuse as children. Sexualized behaviors in children are linked most closely with child sexual abuse. Studies show that there is a strong relationship between sexual abuse and emotional abuse, physical abuse, battered mother, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation/divorce, criminal household member, emotional neglect, and physical neglect. When we think of how common these experiences are, what we see in stores, and on TV starts to make sense.

Rather than focusing on who is making these costumes, or what message is society giving to girls by selling these costumes, what we need to focus on is who is buying them?

Have these parents become so desensitized to the objectification and over-sexualization of women that they fail to see the harm? Are parents too busy working, buying sexy costumes of their own, lost in their own lives and worries to notice?

What are the messages we want our daughters and sisters to know? I vote for the ones Girls, Inc. promotes. Girls Inc. serves girls ages 6-18 in 350 cities, and this is their Bill of Rights:

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