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Halloween Costumes Serve as Reminder that Sexualization is Harmful

Halloween is big business. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $1.8 billion on Halloween costumes in 2010.
Many of today’s Halloween costumes are frightful; not because they’re gory, but because they sexualize girls and women. A lot of costumes for young girls have low-cut tops, padded busts, short skirts and accessories such as fishnet stockings. What messages are these outfits sending to our children?
The phenomenon of sexualizing girls and women is nothing new. It happens all yearlong in advertising, the media, the clothing industry and on television.
Numerous studies have shown that the sexualization of girls and women in popular media can lead to lower self-esteem; physical and mental health disorders, including depression and eating disorders; and a distorted body image, because girls and women feel they can’t possibly achieve the physical beauty they see in images around them.
Research also has shown that sexualization of girls and women in popular media reduces the likelihood of healthy sexual development for both sexes. Depicting women as sexual objects also has the potential to increase sexual violence and human trafficking. And yet sexualization continues to be on the rise.
In the September 2011 issue of the journal “Sexuality and Culture,” two University of Buffalo sociologists published research that found that popular media has increasingly sexualized, even “pornified,” images of women over the past several decades. The researchers examined the covers of Rolling Stone magazine from 1967 to 2009 to measure changes in the sexualization of men and women in popular media. Their analysis found that women continue to be sexualized more frequently than men and that in the past decade, the images of women, but not men, have become more intensely sexualized.
Sexualization is taking place in the girls clothing industry as well. According to one study conducted recently by researchers at Kenyon College in Ohio, about 30 percent of young girls’ clothing sold in U.S. stores could be considered sexy. The researchers found that many of the pieces combined both sexualized and childlike features, making it easier for parents to overlook the sexualized characteristics of the clothing.
So are there things we can do to protect young girls — as well as all people — from the harmful effects of sexualization? Yes. For starters, as adults, it’s helpful to be cognizant of sexualized messages around us and do everything in our power to counter their effects. We’ll also benefit from making healthy choices about the television we watch, publications we read and clothing we buy.
As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and mentors, we can have a positive impact on the children in our lives by encouraging them to participate in healthy activities and by talking with them about sexualized messages we may encounter during our time together. Let’s encourage children with compliments not about how they look but about how hard they work, how creative they are or how much fun they are to be with. These messages make a big difference in how children perceive themselves.