Halloween is a holiday that I enjoy a lot more in the abstract (costumes, silliness, chocolate!) than the specific (lack of sewing skills/glue gun, complete lack of imagination as to what to be, candy of dubious quality and people who give you raisins). Aside from my one true costume victory (when I went as the Feminine Mystique in law school by wearing a vintage dress, ruffled apron, pearls, heels, and carrying a martini glass and a pill bottle), I am largely content to let other people come up with really clever costumes and demonstrate their superior crafting skills while I hand out candy to the trick or treaters who come by our house. (For you crafty types who aren’t into sexy Halloween and are looking for inspiration, check out Take Back Halloween. They even link to places that sell the costume components.)
However, this year, my daughter is three and a half and invested in the idea of Halloween. When she was 18 months old, we acquired an ice cream cone costume on clearance from Pottery Barn Kids the day before Halloween. (By the way, kudos to BPK for having totally cute kid-appropriate costumes. I just wish they weren’t so damn expensive.) Last year, my husband located a Jessie (from Toy Story) costume online. We’ve not bought anything for her this year, in part because we’re trying to come up with a couple of options for her to choose from which meet all of our criteria (no shedding glitter, no princesses, nothing hazardous) and her request that it involve purple. What I did not anticipate was that our criteria needed to be revised to include “not a sexy costume”. Because, well, she’s THREE.
In an effort to at least get some ideas, T (my husband) and I stopped at one of those pop up Halloween stores while the kiddo was at preschool. (The kind that appears randomly in a shopping center for six weeks a year.) When we first walked in, we were really glad we had not brought the kiddo because the displays were loud and scary: giant spiders, zombies, things like that. (Also, inexplicably, an entire small display of dead, dismembered, and zombie babies. It felt like a pro-life house of horrors.) By the time we were done, we were really glad we hadn’t brought the kiddo because of the selection of costumes for kids.
I was absolutely prepared for the collection of “sexy” adult costumes. When we first walked in, my husband took a picture of me holding a sexy Army costume.
(In case you were wondering, I totally wore something like this every day in Afghanistan!)
I have laughed uncontrollably at fucknosexisthalloweencostumes Tumblr. [Note: the Tumblr features notes from trolls, some of which use some pretty hateful language. Also, there's at least one picture of a "sexy mental patient" costume (because this wasn't enough of a WTF before), so heads up on that, too.] I am making side bets as to whether or not I actually see someone dressed as a sexy clownfish* or a sexy watermelon. I am utterly baffled by the sexy skunk getup (which makes you look you were mugged by the reject boots from an Ugg factory), but hey. To each their own.
*This is a Finding Nemo ripoff, which is made even more disturbing by the fact that the female clownfish, Coral, doesn’t even survive the first three minutes of the movie.
But the kids costumes, dear readers, the kids costumes. Every photo below was taken in the kids section. Every single one is sized for kids. (At three and a half, my daughter is much too tall for most toddler kids clothes, so we’re looking a size or two up from what you’d expect for her age. She’s a size 5. Most of these are marked size 7-8, so she’ll likely fit into them by next Halloween, at the ripe old age of four and a half.) In addition to the costumes, check out how the girls are posed: hip thrust out, chest forward, lots of makeup, come hither look. I’m not awesome with guessing ages, but most of them look 11ish.
Exhibit 1: “Delinquent Devil” aka a really twisted sexy schoolgirl fantasy gone wrong. (Description: A 11 to 13-year-old white girl with long brown hair wearing a fedora with little devil horns sticking out the sides, a skintight red shirt with cap sleeves, a little black vest, a black and red plaid tie, red wings, a black and red plaid miniskirt, knee high red socks with black stripes around the top, and black low rise Converse style sneakers. She has one hand on her hip and is pouting at the camera. The costume is labeled “Girls Size Costume”.)
Exhibit 2: “Asian Princess,” for a side of racist appropriation along with bizarre sexualization. (Description: a 9 to 13-year-old girl with dark hair wearing a pink patterned robe with long, drapey sleeves and a wide dark pink sash, i.e., the sort of thing that many Americans would label geisha-style without really considering the implications of that phrasing or its casual racism. Her hair is up and she’s wearing some sort of headpiece which is included in the costume. She’s looking demurely at the ground and not at the camera.)
Exhibit 3: “Fire Chief,” for a reminder that all badass skills are best accomplished in a skirt and knee high boots. (Description: a 6 to 8-year-old white girl with wavy long brown hair wearing a black baseball hat, form fitting black dress with what looks like a reflective safety belt for trim on the short sleeves and as a belt. There’s also what looks like a piece of reflective belt as a *collar*. The skirt’s well above the knee and she’s wearing high heeled, knee high black boots with the outfit. The smallest size this costume comes in is 4-6, so it’s meant for ages 4 to 6.)
Exhibit 4: “Circus Clown,” because clowns weren’t creepy enough before. (Description: a 7 to 10-year-old white girl wearing a big bow on top of her head, a small red clown nose, a ruffled collar and cuffs (not attached to any shirt), a red spaghetti strap polka dot leotard with yellow, blue, and green polka dots, a very short red and orange tutu, sheer red tights, and rainbow striped legwarmers. Again, the smallest size this costume comes in is 4-6, so it’s meant for ages 4 to 6.)
Exhibit 5: “Shipmate Cutie,” to remind you that there was something a little creepy about Shirley Temple, too. (Description: a 4 to 6-year-old white girl with long blond hair wearing a white sailor hat, little blue sailor dress (skirt well above the knee) white knee socks, and black mary janes. She’s wearing a lot of makeup, has one hand on her hip, and is saluting. Size 4-6.)
Exhibit 6: “Radical Red Crayon,” although there isn’t anything radical about sexualizing kids. (Description: an approximately 12-year-old white girl with long blond hair wearing a “tank dress”: a sleeveless red minidress meant to look like a Crayola crayon wrapper. The dress is very short, worn with black tights and (although you can’t see this in the photo), black heels. She has what looks like a little pointed party hat on her head meant to be the tip of the crayon.)
This is only a sampling of the pictures I took. I’ve posted a complete set here. When all was said and done (due to the funky lighting in the store and the fact that I was taking them with my cell phone), I pulled photos of 19 different costumes. The other titles include Edgy Vamp, (seriously, WTF?), Fallen Angel, Dark Angel, Cheerless Leader (sort of a zombie cheerleader) Gothic Rag Doll, two different Monster Brides, Clawdeen Wolf (a character from something called Monster High who’s described as a fashionista), Midnight Vampira, Harujuku Cutie (which I assume is related to Harajuku, but I couldn’t say for sure), Dreamy Genie, Little Black Dress (yes, it’s just a little black dress for the preschool set), and Flapper.
I’m still having a hard time getting over how many of these costumes there were. This was a big place, with a lot of selection. After we ruled out sexy costumes and Disney princesses, pretty much the only thing left was an Olivia costume that looked okay but was made pretty cheaply. We considered a pair of butterfly wings and a headband with antenna, but were unenthused by the idea, so we left to go pick up the kiddo from preschool.
One of the things that T and I have struggled with with the kiddo is the increasing pinkification of childhood (read: girlhood). I don’t think I’d call it Cinderella Ate My Daughter, but it’s certainly a familiar enough concept. Girl stuff is glittery, pink, and pouty. It’s sexualized, but more than anything, it’s normalized. What was most distressing about the costume buying adventure was just the absolute ubiquity of the sexy costumes.
Kids (especially ones as young as my daughter) have no real concept of how they’re being perceived and the image that they’re projecting. They can’t. Age and lack of experience preclude it: they just don’t have context. This isn’t a knock on kids: it’s a knock on adults. Adults who should know better. Adults who should not be encouraging kindegarteners to vamp it up in bikinis while dancing to Single Ladies. Or buying them “Edgy Vamp” costumes when they really don’t have the skills and wherewithal to either pull it off or handle the reactions of others. Adult women have the capacity to manipulate their own image and to choose costumes they like. (They also have the capacity to deal with people who are jackasses in response.) Teenagers are sometimes able to handle that. The under-8 set certainly can’t. Pitching costumes to them like they could is disturbing.
My daughter is three. If she wants to be a sexy clownfish when she’s in college as a throwback to her childhood obsession with Finding Nemo, I can manage that, but I’d at least like her to be old enough to know what irony is first.