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Goodbye treats, hello tricks

By Joanne Richard
Toronto Sun
October 20, 2007

The traditional Halloween scare fare is taking a back seat to the ever burgeoning array of ultra-sexy styles -- and not for adults only. Teens and even younger girls are buying into sexy, from belly-baring pirates, cheerleaders and divas, to sultry angels, flirty devils and racy witches. There's even a naughty Hermione, Harry Potter's sidekick.

The costume trend has gone from scary to "skanky," says Halloween guru Kurt Perron, and it's definitely creeped down to the tween and teen set.

"The young girls are getting skankier and skankier -- I can't believe what parents are letting their 13-year-olds buy. They're dressing up like total tramps," says Perron, who runs the Amazing Costume and Party Store in Toronto.

"Sex sells no matter what the age," adds Perron, who says the store's sexy category is its most popular as Halloween has evolved into more of an adult holiday.

Women's costumes are pervasively provocative -- every classic fairytale character is sexed up -- and Perron's seeing more and more teens gravitating to the thigh-high, X-rated adult outfits in X-small adult sizes. Even some of the seductive adult styles are being mini-sized and marketed to young girls, complete with bare midriffs and skimpy skirts, under brand names like Wicked Innocence and Drama-Licious.

According to Perron, female partygoers seek ever-sexier Halloween identities and use Halloween as a fantasy night to "shed their inhibitions and get slutty -- 75% of women coming in are going for the sexy costumes." The problem is so are a lot of younger girls, too.

That's frightening, say experts. Sexing up our children is a pervasive trend and Halloween is no exception to the commercial exploitation: "It's the disturbing rise of raunch culture, but now it's reaching down to children," says Dr. Susan Linn, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "It's a reflection of a growing commercial trend to sexualize increasingly younger and younger girls."

Youth are immersed in a sexualized world and it's both disconcerting and damaging, says Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood at the Judge Baker Children's Centre in Boston. "Essentially what's happening is that young girls are being marketed all this sexual stuff before they're old enough to understand what sexuality means. They don't have the capacity to understand what message they're sending out -- and are they prepared to deal with the response?

Skipping childhood

"They're being trained to move from being pre-schoolers right into being teenagers, preoccupied about how their bodies look, dating, shopping and being princesses... It's depriving them of their childhood," adds Linn, a psychologist and author of Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children From the Onslaught of Marketing and Advertising (Anchor Books).

The creativity has totally gone out of Halloween, says Linn, adding, "it's never been harder to be a parent because the prevailing culture is so toxic." She strongly advises parents not to bow to marketing pressure that makes young girls grow up too fast and promotes that there's only one narrow way of growing up -- and that's to always look sexy and pretty.

Costumes are scarier than ever, says Nancy Rue, yet there are very few age-appropriate costume options for young girls out there -- they go from Disney to trashy Diva.

"They're offered adult fare for what used to be a kid's most fun night of the year," says Rue, who has written more than 100 books for young people, her latest called Girl Politics: Friends, Cliques and Really Mean Chicks (Zonderkidz/Harper Collins).

What's happening, she adds, is that "young is getting older, so younger and younger kids are wanting to look older and older, and in the market, older equals sexier.

"The sad thing is, it isn't the girls who are asking to look like high-class prostitutes. They're being told that's what they're supposed to look like," says Rue.

So just what's too sexy? "Anything that says, 'See my butt? Oh, and have you noticed the breasts? That's what I'm all about, you know.' If the outfit -- Halloween or not -- takes the eye directly there, the fun's over."

Rue strongly believes that girls need to be the age they are: "Halloween is such a delightful time to express their delights and dreams and fantasies. I'd love to see parents guide girls back to that."

So when your daughter is pushing the costume envelope, use it as a teachable moment.

"Rather than lecture, chat together about the reasons and explore the fact that it isn't other kids who've established the trend, but adults in marketing ... Establish some guidelines. How short is short enough? How low can the neckline be? How many sizes too small is permissible? Then let her make her choices within those parameters," says Rue, a speaker with Virtuous Reality Ministries, a national ministry that provides tweens and teens with the tools to navigate today's culture.

Be understanding, as well as clear, consistent and a good role model. "This isn't her fault -- she's responding to the society she lives in," Rue says. "It's a great time for her to start shaping it, instead of letting it shape her."


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