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Skank-o-ween 2007

On the eve of Halloween stories are dotting the mainstream media landscape about the sleazy costumes for young girls this trick-or-treating season. 


From a front page article in The Washington Post, to a feature on Newsweek.com, and similar stories in outlets ranging from phillyBurbs.com, WKBW-TV in Buffalo, New York, and even the Globe and Mail in Canada, the plethora of skanky, smutty costumes seems to be the story du jour this Halloween.


    Page 18 of the November 5 print edition of Newsweek:  “One version of a Little Bo Peep costume for preteens, on sale at Buy Costumes.com, has a corset and knee high stockings.  An Army-girl costume is labeled 'Major Flirt.'”

    Page 1 of the October 30th Washington Post:  “Gabby Cirenza wanted to be a referee for Halloween. The outfit she liked had a micro-mini black skirt and a form-fitting black and white-striped spandex top held together with black laces running up the flesh-exposing sides. She looked admiringly at the thigh-high black go-go boots that could be bought as an accessory. And she thought the little bunny on the chest was cute. 'Absolutely not,' said her mother, Cheryl. 'That is so not happening.' Gabby is 11.”

The costume choices for young girls this year are making parents cringe.  Several of the media reports on this story focused on the tug of war between parents and daughters.  Some reported that parents caved in to the kids' desires, others like the mom and daughter featured in the Post's article detailed the parents' victory for modesty.


However, all of the media outlets report the same sad bottom line.  As The Washington Post stated: “Bawdy Halloween costumes … have become the season's hottest sellers in recent years.”


The online Newsweek feature took the story into a broader cultural context.  The story quoted a costume buyer from “catalog giant Lillian Vernon,” who said the sexy costumes are “simply reflections of pop culture.”  The buyer, Jackie MacDonald, followed up by saying, “We don't want to say they're sexier, just more confident.”


Newsweek reporter Matthew Phillips dug deeper, interviewing representatives from the American Psychological Association's (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.  The APA released a report in February of 2007 saying girls are depicted in a “sexualized manner” by mainstream media throughout U.S. culture. 


It is no surprise, given the sexualized media messages that inundate them, that these same girls want to be “Midnight Fairy Rock Girl” or “Scar-let Pirate.”  Folks handing out candy to trick-or-treaters tomorrow night can expect to see lots of young girls showing skin on their doorstep.


In the Newsweek feature, sadly entitled “Eye Candy,” the reporter does cite findings from the APA's report that should serve as a wake-up call to parents and media producers.


“But what might be news is the increasing evidence of the negative impact an overemphasis on body image has on girls' lives. The APA task force's team of psychologists linked oversexualization with three of the most common mental health problems for women 18 and older: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. And there is evidence that the effect is trickling down the age brackets. 'Clinicians are reporting that younger and younger girls are presenting with eating disorders and are on diets,' says (APA's Eileen) Zurbriggen.”


Maybe Halloween costume retailers who market smutty costumes to little girls, and the parents who pay for them, should read Celia Rivenbark's 2006 book:  Stop Dressing Your Six Year Old Like a Skank. On her Web site, www.celiarivenbark.com, the author discusses why she wrote the book.  In a video, she holds up a t-shirt made for a seven-year-old adorned with a picture of a muffin with metal studs on it.  The shirt says, “Wanted Stud Muffin.”  Rivenbark quips, “They actually have a name for these clothes and the kids that wear them.  They're called 'prosti-tots.”


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.