Editorial: Don’t sexualize kids’ costumes

It’s nearly Halloween, and something wicked this way comes. We speak not of ghosts and goblins, but of the ghouls who are stealing the innocent joy from a day that should be marked with harmless fun.

A Victoria mother went shopping for a costume last week, hoping to find a firefighter costume for her four-year-daughter.

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She found a proper firefighter getup for boys — jacket, red helmet, plastic axe — but the firefighter costume for girls creeped her out.

“It was a skin-tight, skimpy dress,” said Raina Delisle. “I was absolutely disgusted.”

There were other scary costumes. On a package containing a police costume for girls was a photo of a girl in a shiny blue minidress and calf-high boots. A pumpkin costume came with a black bodice and an orange-ribboned corset.

Delisle made her feelings known, and the retailer pulled the offending costumes off the shelves, not just in Victoria, but in its stores throughout Canada and the U.S. Good for her for speaking out; good for the retailer for responding quickly.

Once upon a time, Halloween was just for kids, a day that combines customs and traditions from various cultures and allows children to be something else for a while: ghosts, witches, dinosaurs, monsters, movie characters. And, of course, that still happens.

But something else is happening, and it is disturbing. Halloween has become Canadians’ second-biggest day for spending, next to Christmas. If Canada follows the U.S. trend, more money will be spent for adult costumes than for children’s costumes.

Many adult costumes are blatantly slutty, showing far more skin than creativity or taste: sexy nurses, bunny suits, strippers, pimps and pole-dancers … Halloween has become a skankfest.

And many of those adults celebrate the weekend before Halloween, a time that has eclipsed New Year’s Eve as the biggest party night of the year. In 2012, Greater Victoria police departments got four times more calls on the Saturday night before Halloween than they did for the subsequent New Year celebrations.

There’s nothing wrong with adults wanting to recapture a bit of the fun of childhood. If they want to temporarily shed some inhibitions, that’s their business. It becomes a public concern when the bacchanalian celebrations threaten the safety and well-being of others, when the partying strains police departments and other emergency services.

That’s concerning, but more frightening is that the pornographication of Halloween has extended to children and teenagers. Sexualized costumes confuse young children and send the wrong messages to adolescents.

According to an American Psychological Association study, when girls and young women are sexualized, they experience lower self-esteem, higher levels of depressed moods and discomfort with their own bodies.

A company that would manufacture and market sexualized children’s costumes has no conscience, but if sleaze sells, someone will sell it. Children don’t buy the costumes — adults do. Children’s requests for such costumes can be countered with that underused parental technique summed up in one word: No.

(And while we’re at it, let’s ease up on Halloween costumes for pets, a purchase on the increase in North America. The dressing-up of cats and dogs is done strictly for the entertainment of selfish owners — costumes can cause serious traumatization or injury to pets.)

Urban legends persist about Halloween treats spiked with poison or sharp objects, despite research that has shown such events are extremely rare.

There’s a more subtle — and very real — poison at play when Halloween costumes depict children in sexualized roles. That’s the toxin we should be concerned about.

Let’s give Halloween back to the kids.

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