This Halloween, parents everywhere have cause to be scared. Not of the rising obesity rate among kids or the costly tooth decay that comes with mainlining M&Ms.
Even more chilling? That moment when your 8-year-old daughter puts her tiny hands on her tiny hips and asks, "Why can't I be a French maid this year?"
Well, where to start? Nevermind that she has never made her bed. Or that at Halloweenexpress.com, the $18.29 "French Maid Child Costume" is out of stock. (Whew.) And don't even think about trying to explain the pivotal role of the French maid in a Fellini film and then persuading her to be a pirate or a princess instead.
"When my daughter told me she wanted to be Snow White this year, I was worried that she would want to be a sexy version," says magazine editor Glynis Costin. "She's at that age when it becomes an issue."
Thankfully, her 13-year-old preferred the old-school version of the Disney character. But Costin had to wade through dozens of provocative princess get-ups -- packaged with thigh-high stockings and midriff-baring tops -- before she found a suitable costume.
In the last couple of years, the Halloween costume industry has figured out a way to sexualize almost every conceivable option. Witch costumes now feature fishnet stockings and velvet miniskirts. (Needless to say, warts and stringy hair are out.) Pirate costumes are short, off-the-shoulder dresses and long gloves. Ahoy, tarty!
Devil looks range from scanty red satin short-shorts to velvet gowns with side slits and feather-trim necklines. Even a honeybee suit for teens, with thigh-high, striped stockings and an ultra miniskirt, seems better suited to turning tricks than trick-or-treating.
This hypersexualizing of teens and tweens is hardly new. Marketers have long understood that sex sells, even to kids who have yet to be kissed. "KGOY"-- or kids growing older younger -- is a buzzword among executives who target the preteen set. And what's more, most 8- to 10-year-olds have no desire to look "sexy." They associate bare midriffs and thigh-highs with being fashionable, rather than playing a modern-day Lolita.
"They advertise these costumes with 3-inch heels, and the kids look like prostitutes," says screenwriter Jill Mazursky Cody, who recalls an 8-year-old French maid causing a kerfuffle at a party about two years ago. She's thrilled her 10-year-old daughter plans to be a garden gnome this year. "Some parents don't care."
Others may not be prepared to explain to a tween that purple pleather platform boots are for exotic dancers and that a "sugar daddy" isn't just a caramel lollipop.
"If she wants to be a sexy pirate, you should ask your daughter what identity she wants to create," suggests Lyn Mikel Brown, coauthor of "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers' Schemes." "You two can work together to create a costume that reflects who she wants to be."
Still, it's tricky. Boys don't get branded as aspiring serial killers for smothering themselves in blood, which, incidentally, many schools have banned on Halloween in recent years. This year, the Los Angeles Unified School District has sent Halloween guidelines to principals that take on the trend in revealing costumes. "Costumes may not cause significant disruption or distraction to the school program," it reads. Oh, and French maid costumes are banned.
Unfortunately, the Halloween retailers didn't get the memo.
Corcoran is a Times staff writer.
Monday in Health An interview with Diane E. Levin, co-author of "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids."