Parent, Teacher, Author
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.
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, 343–349.
Tiggemann, M., & Kuring, J. K. (2004). The role of body objectification in disordered eating and depressed mood. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 43, 299–311.
Tiggemann, M.,&Slater, A. (2001). A test of objectification theory in former dancers and non-dancers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 57–64.