Obviously, one kid's Halloween costume choice neither creates nor negates this syndrome, but subtle messages build up over time. Instead, why not use Halloween as a way to open up a conversation? Here, I suggest a few ways to help your children have a healthy and positive attitude about Halloween costumes and their own bodies.
Find Out What She Really Want to Be: Halloween is traditionally a time to test-drive a different persona, so ask your child what skill she wishes she had or what activity she’d like to be good at. Then, build a costume around that rather than a preformed character. Does she want to be athletic? Dress her up like an Olympian in red, white and blue with a gold medal. Is he interested in science? Suggest a mad scientist, with a lab coat and a brain in a jar.
Go Scary: Emphasize the roots of Halloween—a spooky time when the supernatural is on the loose. Instead of aiming for an adult costume, suggest your kids try to create a scary one.
Humanize a Character: If your child desperately wants to dress up as a particular character, get him to articulate what makes that character so special. Stress the superheroes’ values rather than how cool they look.
Don’t Badmouth Sexy Costumes: Parents shouldn't be sex negative, especially with tweens. Telling a girl she can’t wear something skimpy because it makes her look like a slut or because it will send the wrong message just creates internal dissonance since she sees even skimpier outfits on celebrities every day. Instead of fighting, ask her why this costume is the one she wants as a way to open a dialogue.
Keep it Up All Year Long: Finally, throughout the year, praise your children—especially your daughters—for what they attempt and accomplish, not for how they look. A girl who hears “you always work hard” repeatedly rather than “you look so nice” can wear a skimpy costume one night and not be convinced it’s the only way to be popular and loved.
Dr. Annalisa Castaldo teaches English at Widener University. She is also director of Gender & Women’s Studies and often represents the university in the media as an expert on a variety of topics related to the women’s movement. She has lectured on gender issues and feminism to a wide variety of groups and is currently writing about gender in Shakespearean adaptations.