That scene was fresh in my mind this morning when I came across a Huffington Post article about the evolution of girls' Halloween costumes. The article explains that girls' costumes have evolved over the last 20 years from silly and scary to sexy. A slideshow accompanying the article illustrates this trend, contrasting modest old-school costumes with barely-there contemporary counterparts. A floor-length fairy godmother gown becomes a laced corset above a short tutu. A baggy clown costume becomes a polka-dot cami above a short tutu. Full-body prison garb becomes a black-and-white striped tank top above, you guessed it, a short tutu.
I have no argument with HuffPo writer Jessica Samakow's claim that "girls are being fed sexualized identities at younger ages." But my observation contradicts Samakow's assessment that, though parents are trying to resist dressing their daughters in sexy costumes, "it's a battle most parents seem to be losing." The mere existence of trashy costumes for young girls is abhorrent, but parents seem more capable of avoiding them than Samakow acknowledges. Maybe it's because I live in Minnesota where you'd freeze your tookus off in a short tutu, but the only sexualized costume I spotted last night was on the mother next to me. (That could be the subject of another blog post, if I had any idea what to make of it.) It's worth noting that the HuffPo slideshow compares decades-old photographs of real children with contemporary images from costume packaging. A tutu looks provocative on a heavily made-up child posing like a pin-up girl, but it becomes innocent worn over leggings with the back tag hanging out and topped with a long-sleeved t-shirt that doesn't match except for the glitter.
Sexy costumes are like those misogynistic t-shirts that raise an outcry every season. (Remember J.C. Penney's "Too pretty to do homework" shirt?) Or like Howard Stern. They're repulsive, and they represent a tolerance for misogyny that seems to be increasing. But they're also designed to shock, and they gain power when we pay them too much attention. As parents, I think most of us are managing to navigate the costume and clothing aisles without debasing our children. The challenge, as indicated perhaps by a mother shaking her booty at a kids' event, is helping our children navigate these things themselves as they grow older.