The XX Factor

Mom, Can I Be a Sexy Devil for Halloween?

Apparently parents wandering a party store in Manhattan were shocked (shocked!) to learn that sexy costumes are available for toddlers, tweens, and teens . Have these people totally missed Toddlers and Tiaras ? Letting your 4-year-old cavort in a revealing cheap satin ensemble may be poor parenting (although it could also be described as “buying her that Disney Princess costume she’s been begging for”), but is letting your 14-year-old dress as a Devil Grrl really asking for trouble?

Sharon Lamb, author of Packaging Girlhood , told the New York Post that the costumes were “very damaging, ” adding, “The one night when its ok to live out your fantasies, marketers are telling children their fantasies should involve sex.” Here’s the thing: Plenty of 14-year-old-girl fantasies already involve sex. (In her defense, Ms. Lamb was talking about all of the costumes, not just those for teens. )

Teenagers want to be cool, and they want to look hot. I distinctly remember the annual struggle to come up with a Halloween costume that conveyed my hidden assets and yet didn’t look like I was trying too hard, and certainly anything that involved fishnet tights invariably fit the bill. When everything fell together, the feeling I remember best was one of power-of flaunting what felt like a rebellious choice in front of peers and adults alike, risk free. Were men and boys looking at me in inappropriate ways? I guarantee that I hoped so. I also guarantee that I knew-as do the vast majority of people-that I was not inviting my drama teacher to go all Roman Polanski on me.

I’m not OK with 7-year-olds dressed as French maids, but I don’t begrudge a 15-year-old the chance to dress as the risque version of the Cheshire cat for a night, should she so desire. (Although I’d argue that a homemade homicidal-goth-cheerleader look would offer infinitely more cred.) Every girl should learn to play with her sexuality, and our adult fears and judgments shouldn’t be allowed to take that away. But that’s easy for me to say, as I’m a decade away from having a 15-year-old girl of my own. Still, as an onlooker, taking the sex out of a teenage Halloween strikes me as a battle that was well lost a long time ago.