Where are the non-sexy girl Halloween costumes?

When I think back on Halloween, I remember pulling together costumes that revolved around a favorite character in a book or what I now recognize as an inappropriate objectification of another person’s cultural heritage.  I don’t remember worrying about how to make myself more sexy or how to pretend something that was skin tight and showed off my butt and boobs was something a real pirate would wear.  In fact, it wasn’t really until college that I started thinking about the sex appeal of my costumes and, even then, freshman year my roommate and I dressed all in black (jeans, long sleeve shirt, no cleavage) and wrapped one of those fake spiderwebs between us.  We were not so sexy, but we did get noticed– if you didn’t notice us and get out of the way, you got stuck!

Times, however, seem to be changing.  And, the costume-making industry, in my view, is changing in a way that is particularly negative for the self esteem and self worth of little girls. Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with being sexy or wanting to feel/look sexy.  However, I do have a problem with children, girl children in particular, receiving the message that they can image they can be anything on earth as long as they are sexy.

When an adult chooses a sexy outfit as part of his/her Halloween attire, he/she is making a choice and understands the ramifications and meaning behind these choices.  When girl children are marketed and sold these costumes – and a lot are sold: in 2011, children’s costumes were a 1 billion dollar per year industry, according to the 2011 National Retail Federation survey – they do not have the ability to analyze the messaging, make a conscious choice, or (hopefully) understand the dangers. Michael Yulu of the Princess Free Zone points out:

“Marketers basically decide what is ‘girl’ and what is ‘boy,’ which ultimately leads to two very distinct ways to profit as well as a blind acceptance from the consumer who, often, doesn’t realize it’s happening,” Yulo says. “Girls are inundated from a very young age with inappropriate messaging by way of products like ‘skinny’ jeans for toddlers, or T-shirts that say, ‘I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother does it for me,’ and sexy Halloween costumes. Kids begin to codify other kids by placing them in strict categories that they’ve been taught — not born with. Inevitably, kids begin to believe that girls need to be sexy, and boys believe it, too.” (CNN)




Let’s look at the costumes above.  The costume on the right is perfectly gender neutral, looks a bit like cookie monster, and is absolutely age appropriate.   Why exactly is there a separate “girl” costume for cookie monster?  It looks nothing like him!  Not to mention, it appears to be “helping” the toddler (yes, these costumes are both targeted at the 2-4 year old crow) to have a defined waist, extra poof up top, and a mid thigh hem line.  Really? Am I the only one who wants to barf when I see this?  And… of course… give the messaging we are giving our girl children about the important of being “beautiful”, “docile”, and “cute” to get what they want, it is no surprise that by two to four-years-old, they are already tending towards these types of outfits.


Cat should be a safe costume choice… Nope! Here we have half cat half street walker.

Searching for my daughter’s costume and looking at the availability online for toddler costumes (young girls too), I am repeatedly struck by the oversexualization.  I am no scholar, so I looked to the American Psychological Association for guidance.  The executive summary of their Task Force  Sexualization of Girls clearly explains:

There are several components to sexualization, and these set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified — that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization. The fourth condition (the inappropriate imposition of sexuality) is especially relevant to children. Anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualized. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualization by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.


Want to be a police man? How about being a stripper instead?

I understand that these issues will only grow as my daughter does.  She is already internalizing messages about needing to be “pretty” and gaining favor for cuteness.  While I try desperately to be the voice in her head that resists all the external messaging of the world, I can already see how princess culture and ideas around beauty are being internalized.  My only hope is to create a space for open dialogue, be it about Halloween costumes or talking about sex, that instills in her a strong sense of her self-worth and an ability to remain true to herself.

In buying my own daughter a Halloween costume, I ended up tending to just look at the “boy” costumes to find something that was realistic in its interpretation (she wants to be a monster).  My other criteria were that I not have to worry about skinned knees, or her being too cold in the Albania winter weather, and that I as a Mom felt comfortable with the outfit.  Turns out, she loves my choice and would like to wear it every day!

When researching for this blog post I discovered some useful resources.  A Mighty Girl is a great resource.  Not only do they sell non-sexy, empowering costumes for both boys and girls, but they even host a contest of A Mighty Girl Halloween Costumes.  The top 50 from last year are definitely worth checking out!  While some of the top 50 still set off my too sexy radar, many were creative, empowering, and stunning.

Finally, for the crafty: one of the most fail-safe ideas is to just make your own costume.  More intricate designed (still simple) can be found at Real Simple: Life Made Easier or Pintrest.

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  2. I must confess, I once went to a Halloween party as a sexy sofa. But that was in my 20s.

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