Shopping for Halloween costumes with my tween is akin to getting a root canal. I've never had a root canal but I know people who have and they never emerge from the dentist's chair smiling. In fact, they often look like they are caught in that place between sheer, outright pain and Novocaine and it's not a good place to be. And that's the look on my face after visiting multiple Halloween stores and Party City. Because Drue is tall, she no longer fits into child-sized costumes. While they still fit her width-wise, length-wise we're already in trouble. Long dresses and skirts hit her mid-knee and anything mini is micro-mini on her long body. And Drue wearing micro-minis is something I'm not prepared to deal with since the moment she emerges in one, Jason starts googling words like "gun store" and "shotguns". Really, though, all I want is some transition for tweens and teens that meets somewhere in the middle between child sizes and slutty.
The real joke is that most Halloween costumers tag costumes that are not child-sized as "classic", "historical", "character" and "sexy". The problem is that there is little to no difference between these types of costumes. In fact, the only delineator between sexy and not sexy for tweens, teens and adults that I can find is regular sized vs. plus sized, the plus size being decidedly not sexy.
One quote that stands out for me in the movie "Mean Girls" is a Cady voice-over where she said: "Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it." It wasn't so long ago - well it was long ago but not so long ago, that I was an older teenager and in my early 20s and Halloween was all about dressing up (or down). I believe my Memaw referred to those costumes (not to mention the clothes I wore clubbing) as "hoochie". And I do think there is a time and a place and an age where dressing in a provocative manner is acceptable. However, that time is when you're old enough and have the maturity to understand why you're dressing in that manner and to accept the consequences but still young enough to have the body to wear that type of clothing. Remember people, lycra and leather are a privilege, not a right.
In my opinion, however, that time is not during your formative years when you're already facing peer pressure, societal pressure and have little to no idea about your own identity. We already have issues with our girls being objectified by others. Worse yet, is the self-objectification that comes with the slew of advertising and media to which our girls are exposed whether on television, online or in the halls of their schools.
Caroline Heldman wrote a thought-provoking piece in Ms. Magazine last year on self-objectification. In her article, she quotes numerous studies that show: "that girls and women who self-objectify are more prone to depression and low self-esteem and have less faith in their own capabilities, which can lead to diminished success in life. They are more likely to engage in habitual body monitoring—constantly thinking about how their bodies appear to the outside world—which puts them at higher risk for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia..." She goes on to state that self-objectification has also been repeatedly shown to sap cognitive functioning and impair motor skills. Barbara Fredrickson and Kristen Harrison, professors working with Michigan University's Institute for Research on Women and Gender, conducted a study on 202 girls, ages 10 to 17. After factoring out age and experience, she found self-objectification impeded the girls ability to throw a softball. The girls' attention was split between the action and how they looked while performing the action resulting in poor aim and less forceful throws.
I'm not saying if you purchase, or allow your tween or teen to purchase, a sexy costume that you are setting her up for lifelong issues from self-objectification. Although frankly, you may be contributing to the problem so why take that risk? What I am saying is that for me, my goal is to raise a child who is more concerned about acing her math test today and continuing to train her healthy body to ensure she has the stamina to compete well in the horse show next month than whether some boy finds her pretty or the girl next to her thinks she's thin enough, whatever that means. I want a child who goes out on Halloween safe and warm and secure understanding that dressing up is not about showing off your body parts (especially not at this age) but is about the fun and fantasy and yes, fun scariness, that come with Halloween and being a kid.
I just wish the Halloween costumers would take note. Until then, I have a sewing machine and costume patterns and I'm not afraid to use them. At least I won't be once I figure out how to use my sewing machine...
Jeri writes about changing her life, growing up and managing it all while raising a tween, an ex-husband and two pets at Lifeinflux.
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