Culture challenge of the week: Halloween costumes
Each year, Halloween arrives with a flurry of new trends turned into costumes. How appropriate are these outfits for our children? And what do these trends — like the disturbing trend to dress little girls as "baby prostitutes" — say about our culture?
Halloween has become the prime opportunity for our hypersexualized culture to ratchet its messages up to another level, encouraging girls to try on the "sexy bad girl" image. And why not? It's just a costume ...
The still-popular 2004 teen movie "Mean Girls" reinforces that, "[i]n Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year where a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it. The hard-core girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears." In the movie, the teen girls attend a party wearing lingerie, bunny tails and tiaras. Future Playboy Bunnies, anyone?
It's a shame. Girl-specific costumes no longer require hours on the sewing machine to make a beautiful princess dress. Simply jump online at PartyCity.com, Newegg.com, Amazon.com or even Polyvore.com to find the costume your little girl desires — if you dare. Costumes marketed toward girls now come in four varieties: the storybook representation, the slightly sassy copy, the seductive adaptation and the barely there version. Which costume version will your daughter wear this year?
Parents, like it or not, our children are very susceptible to marketing and image projections. And the fashion industry, like the entertainment world, sounds one consistent note to our children: Sexy is in — at every age. If we're not careful, our children will internalize the images that bombard them.
Before you dismiss the phenomenon, because that's something you would never allow, of course, consider the styles to which we've become accustomed: Do we raise our eyebrows anymore at the sight of prepubescent girls with "delicious" splashed across the rear end of their skin-tight leggings, or take it in stride? Do our children's classmates wear the oh-so-popular boots, miniskirt and spaghetti-strap top combination even before they've hit double digits — only to receive compliments on how stylish they are? Do we close our ears to preteen talk about how "hot" girls look in their jeans?
Messages matter. Consider the message young girls receive when "Sexy" instead of "Daddy's Little Girl" is written on their kid-sized T-shirts. Children who become accustomed as toddlers to wearing makeup (however "kid-friendly") and sporting the latest skimpy fashions grow into teenagers with voracious trend-appetites — and low self-respect. And it's not only girls who suffer. Our boys grow up surrounded by girls far too eager to label themselves "sexy." The message to boys — "sexy" defines a woman's value.
How to save your family: Reinforce respect and modesty — even at Halloween
Weave the thread of modesty into your child's clothing choices — including Halloween costumes. Encourage your child to choose a costume that respects his or her value as a human being, even as they enjoy the fun of fantasy and make-believe.
Respect (and modesty) are values we parents must communicate to our children every day, not only on Halloween. Teach your children, especially your daughters, that their self-worth comes from God and His love for them. They are worthy of honor — always. Self-respect begins internally, but extends to how we dress, even on occasions like Halloween.
We don't want to raise our children to be sexy trend-followers. We do want to raise our children to respect each other — to view each other as human beings worthy of honor — even on nights like Halloween.
This Halloween, as you shop the aisles or websites for a costume, ask yourself what message you want to send as you approve your child's costume: Do you want your daughter to grow up to be a strong, independent woman filled with limitless potential? Or to aspire to grace the cover of a magazine in her underwear?
Clothing — and costume — choices won't decide a child's future. But the underlying messages they embrace definitely will.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at email@example.com.