Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Have a Sexy Halloween!

Halloween has become a very sexy time of year. The costumes are reminiscent of the adult entertainment industry, promoting girls and women as sexual objects. Even international publications are asking why Halloween has become so sex-oriented!

A college student of mine texted me directly from the store aisle to ask if I had seen the kids Halloween costumes this year. Her words, “They’re appalling!” Not long ago, Walmart withdrew a “Naughty” child’s costume. I visited a Halloween costume store with my daughters and was overwhelmed by the sexy costumes for young children. The photo of the Snow White costume below is one that we saw in the store. For 10-12 year olds. Really. I’m not kidding.

Back Camera

And then there’s this round up shared by Gender Neutral Parenting .


In a talk that I’ve given many times to rooms full of school psychologists, parents, and college students, every single group has gasped when I put the picture below on the screen, and it is nowhere close to the worst thing I’ve seen in the stores. From college students to parents to professionals, every one of these people has been shocked by the sexualized themes in Halloween costumes for girls and young women.

Sexy Halloween teams up with sexualized media and marketing to sell the message that a woman or girl’s social power comes from her sex appeal.

Susan J. Douglas frames this concept as Enlightened Sexism. In Douglas’ definition, enlightened sexism “insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism, indeed, full equality has allegedly been achieved, so now it’s okay, even amusing to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women.” This point of view says to women that through the use of their bodies and sex appeal, they gain true power. On the surface, it looks like feminism by saying, “You can have power!” but spurns equality by reducing female power to sexuality.

You may be thinking, “But it’s all in good fun! What’s the harm in a girl or woman using her body to experience her power?” In fact, there are many who do argue that this type of self-objectification, of purposefully putting oneself on display for others to view and desire, is empowering. And in the moment there is a feeling of power, of being desired and stirring feelings within others.

But in the long run, there is a strong body of research that clearly shows that self-objectification is psychologically unhealthy. In fact, self-objectification has been linked to disordered eating both in college women and adolescent girls (Tiggemann & Slater, 2001; Slater & Tiggemann, 2002), to depression in both age groups (Teggemann & Kuring, 2004; Grabe, Hyde, & Lindberg, 2007; Meuklenkamp & Saris-Baglama, 2002), and to risk for self-harm (Meuklenkamp, Swanson, & Brausch, 2005).

In the study by Grabe and her colleagues, a link was found between self-objectification and depression for girls as young as 11 years of age. Self-objectification has also been shown to have a relationship with lowered cognitive and academic functioning in women and girls (Gay & Castano, 2010). Self-objectification leads to some series emotional difficulties.

Girls are getting some very contradictory messages about where their value lies and what they can do to gain power. We say, “You can do it all” and media and marketers add, “As long as you’re sexy while doing it!”

We must start talking about these conflicting messages openly with the kids in our lives. We have got to speak up and tell young girls that they do NOT have to use their bodies to gain social power, and we need to stand up to media and marketing campaigns that promote the idea that they do. Self-objectification is not healthy for girls and women, and it’s high time that all caring adults take a stand against the sexualized views that tell girls that their power and value can only be found in their sex appeal. Girls are so much more than eye candy, let’s start treating them that way.

Can you think of some fun, creative Halloween costumes for girls and women that don’t trade on their sexiness? A Mighty Girl has a great resource for empowering costumes for girls. Here are some ideas for older girls and women. What are some other ideas?

Douglas, Susan J. (2010). Enlightened Sexism: The seductive message that feminism’s work is done. Times Books: New York.

Gay, R.K. & Castano, E. (2010). My body or my mind: The impact of state and trait objectification on women’s cognitive resources. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 695-703.

Grabe, S., Hyde, J.S., & Lindberg, S.M. (2007). Body objectification and depression in adolescents: the role of gender, shame, and rumination. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 164–175.

Meuklenkamp, J.J. & Saris-Baglama, R.N. (2002). Self-objectification and its psychological outcome for college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 371-379.

Mueklenkamp, J.J.,  Swanson, J.D. & Brausch, A.M. (2005). Self -objectification, risk taking, and self-harm in college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 24-32.

Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2002). A test of Objectification Theory in adolescent girls. Sex Roles, 46, 343349.

Tiggemann, M., & Kuring, J. K. (2004). The role of body objectification in disordered eating and depressed mood. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 43, 299311.

Tiggemann, M.,&Slater, A. (2001). A test of objectification theory in former dancers and non-dancers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 5764.

4 comments on “Have a Sexy Halloween!

  1. Pingback: Practical Tips to Combat Halloween Horrors of "Wicked Innocence" - Shaping Youth

  2. Amy Jussel (@ShapingYouth)
    October 25, 2015

    Also, Jennifer, thank you for pointing to cultural context, as what used to be ‘just a cat’ in today’s shift toward sexualization at every age/stage becomes a leer and/or a misinterpreted/misrepresented cue that causes damage.

    Hard to believe I wrote this piece on tips to combat Halloween horrors via Packaging Girlhood way back in ’07 w/pre-teens and also how dialed down the age of the impacted demographic of wee ones has become… http://www.shapingyouth.org/halloween-horrors-market-wicked-innocence-for-preteens/

    We definitely need to distill your book into ‘parenting-eze’ tips posts; applied science to pushback on the media messages toward healthier horizons for all…

  3. Kimberly Thompson
    October 20, 2014

    My daughter is now 20 … I remember when she was in second grade (age 7) when she wore a cat costume to school for Halloween. I thought she was so cute and didn’t think of it as sexualized at all … despite it consisting of a black leotard and tights, a tail, ears, and whiskers makeup. She was 7!!!! She got off the bus and came into the house shedding the costume as fast as she could. She said furiously, “I will NEVER wear this costume again!” Bewildered, I asked why. She said some little boys (they had to be 2nd graders, that was the only grade level at her school) walked behind her during the day, saying “woo! woo!” I’m guessing that that meant they were being admiring in a creepy way. I’m kind of shocked that parents would deliberately put their kids in sexualized costumes … I felt bad that I had put my daughter in that costume even though I hadn’t thought of it as sexy at all.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      October 20, 2014

      Kim, thanks for sharing that experience! It’s helpful in prompting us to think through the costumes our kids might wear and ask ourselves if they’re age appropriate. Really, that costume doesn’t sound sexy to me either.

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This entry was posted on October 22, 2015 by in Acting, For Teens and Tweens and tagged , , , , , .
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