That is me, to the left, as a four year old in 1981. I’ll give you a minute to take in my hair.
I am, very obviously, quite awesome in my Wonder Woman costume.
Know what I am not? Sexy. At four years old, I was not sexy. There is nothing sexy about a four year old. Any four year old. EVER.
My parents knew this, which is why I was very appropriately dressed for a chilly night of trick-or-treating in the Pittsburgh suburbs with a turtleneck, warm tights under my 80’s track shorts, and high top sneakers. I am the four year old version of Wonder Woman, a homemade costume thanks to my very creative mother (who would have just given birth to her third child in 4 years).
I always wore homemade Halloween costumes, right up until 6th grade when I was a gypsy fortune teller and enjoyed my last year of trick-or-treating. My mother wasn’t a seamstress, she just expected us to be creative and thrifty. When I worked as a nanny in college, we largely pieced together the kid’s costumes from stuff we had at home.
Then something happened, and I can’t quite put my finger on how or why, but Halloween became porny.
In these parts, starting mid-August, the Halloween super-stores move into vacant retail space with a short term lease and a truck load of cheaply-made costumes fresh off the Chinese shipping container, all of which resemble porny versions of character xyz in what is essentially a repackaged French maid uniform. If you cut out the busty, leggy models wearing the costumes and stacked the photos on top of each other, they would all look the same. The formula is so predictable, it is boring: tight lace-up bodice revealing a lot of boob, short petti-coat skirt, knee high socks or a pair of fishnets and tall boots. Throw in a lollipop and pair of roller skates and you’ve got a 70’s adult film.
Actually, the whole pornography tie-in isn’t all that far off. In my local Halloween super store, my kids call it the Goody Bloody Store, almost all of the costumes they carry are by a company called Leg Avenue. On the website the costumes look very pretty….in the store they looked thin and cheap. Leg Avenue also makes lingerie, burlesque show wear, club wear, and pasties. Some of their stuff is tasteful – very sexy and very adult. As a sex positive adult, I can appreciate that. But it just seems odd to me that I can go from the page selling pasties and burlesque booty shorts and in three clicks be on Cutie Bug or Beautiful Butterfly costume, size Child Small. My real problem with the costumes is that the evolution of a child’s costume to teen costume to adult costume isn’t that far off from each other. They all fit the French maid costume equation, and the youth costumes carry culturally coded wardrobe components that, in the past, had been signals for adult sex work: fishnets, lace up bodices, bustiers, high heeled knee-high boots, knee socks and bare upper thighs, booty shorts, etc.
Somewhere along the line, Halloween stopped being about scariness and fantasy, and became a holiday of packaged sex. When every store you go in to is carrying these sexy children’s costumes, and has been for years, it stops being a one-season market fluke, and becomes a reflection of our culture. What the market bears is a litmus test of our society.
What the Halloween market (and girls’ toy market and tween clothing market and ex-Disney-star media market) has proven is that culturally we seem to have no problem with our girls becoming sexually objectified, and that no age is too young for this. How the heads of parents are not exploding nationwide is beyond me. Our young daughters are being encouraged to trick-or-treat in costumes that make them look like the girl who shows up to a bachelor party carrying her own boom box and a pair of handcuffs.
But the market bears it, because collectively we buy it. For those of us not buying it, too few of us are speaking up against it. The children aren’t to blame, they don’t know better, and they naturally want to be/feel/appear grown up. How many parents are taking the time to go up to the store manager and express their disappointment over the sexy costumes choices offered, and make the point that their money will be spent elsewhere? How many parents are organizing costume exchange parties, or setting up clothing swap tables in someones driveway to piece together creative, homemade costumes? How many parents are calling school, expressing concern that on Halloween dress up day, the 5th grade girls were dressed as Little Lolitas while the boys had costumes that kept them fully covered? How many parents have given up on creativity and are buying the Rainbow Cutie costume for $26.99? How many girls are getting the message to project their sexuality as a display for others, rather than a feeling and experience inside?
Going one step further, what message does it send to the men and boys who view our daughters? When we allow them to dress at young ages in this highly sexualized way, we not only support an industry that thrives on sexually objectifying women, we are reinforcing the sexist views some men/boys may hold and the notion that females are just sexual playthings. What message do we send to predators who are already viewing our young daughters as sex objects? We are telling them that their sexual feelings towards children are not all that taboo, that as parents we are allowing that bar to slide. Parents who buy these costumes and allow their children to wear them, especially in public, reinforce the notion that it is not taboo to have sexual fantasy touch the life of a child. Children as sexual playthings is a taboo that must stay firmly in place.
So while I roll my eyes at the predictability of all of these sexy Halloween costumes reflecting the very male San Fernando Valley porny gaze, I also get a chill down my spine because of the lack of outrage from parents. Just as 1973 Deep Throat pornography star Linda Lovelace foresaw, pornography has indeed become mainstream, and it is now available in children’s sizes. That? Is terrifying to me.