Scary

09.29.15 5:00 AM ET

Is It Now Slutoween for 7-Year-Olds? Really?

Mother Lin Kramer has taken Party City to task for its sexualized, and gender-prescriptive Halloween outfits for girls. Is she right, or patrolling her 3-year-old daughter’s wardrobe too closely?

To be a sexy cop or not to be a sexy cop, that is the question.

The brouhaha over Halloween costumes, especially those for women, is all-too-familiar fodder for ire that generally falls into one of two camps: a) slut-shaming women who enjoy wearing risqué costumes and reveling in a flamboyant display of sexiness one night a year, or b) exploring the pressures on women to de-robe and conform to some nautical/law enforcement authority/janitorial variation on the sex kitten fantasy.

Come October, women across America face an internal debate over how to attire one’s self for All Hallows’ Eve festivities.

We usually think of this costume controversy as reserved for an older set of Halloween revelers, ones at least old enough to drunkenly dance to “The Monster Mash.”

However, a recent fracas involving national chain store Party City’s selection of costumes for toddler girls proves Halloween is cause for controversy and concern even when it comes to tykes who can barely eek out “trick or treat.”

Frustrated with the costume options available for her 3-year-old daughter, Lin Kramer wrote an open letter to Party City that she posted via Facebook this month.

In it, she noted several disparities in the offerings for different sexes, with a specific focus on the limitations on girl costumes.

Kramer pointed out in her letter that in the “classic costumes” section for toddlers on Party City’s website around 30 percent of the costumes for boys are related to professions while just under 7 percent are in the girls’ sections.

“Please, Party City, open up your view of the world and redesign your marketing scheme to let kids be kids, without imposing on them antiquated views of gender roles,” Kramer concluded in her letter.

On first reading about this latest Halloween controversy, I shrugged my shoulders. Halloween has somehow become a lightning rod for gender politics, and this latest iteration appeared to be the luxury fret of middle-class parents.

I recalled the many highly feminine costumes I wore during my childhood some 20-15 years ago, which included: Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Pocahontas (and with nary a thought about reappropriating a cultural figure from a different ethnic group).

Despite buying into the Halloween industrial complex, I grew up and became an independent-minded feminist.

But Dr. Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist and chair of the media committee for the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, told The Daily Beast that the influence of Halloween costumes shouldn’t be given short-shrift.

“The wearing of a costume is a bit like role-playing. With play, they’re often telling a story, and these stories have a lot of significance,” he explained. “The outfits that the kids wear on Halloween have to do with forming their identities. It does influence their thinking.”

“I wouldn’t be involved in leading a parade about doing something about it [children’s Halloween costumes]. The problem is only one issue in our society,” Brody admitted. But, as he added, “These things add up.”

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Scrolling through Party City’s selection of costumes for toddlers (you know, kids who aren’t old enough to even write their names) it becomes easier to understand why Halloween costume buying struck a nerve with Kramer and other parents.

More squeamish unease than outrage hit when going through the array of costumes, especially the police officer one highlighted in Kramer’s letter.

One of the few occupation costumes for girls, the cop looks nothing like an actual police officer.

The little girl in the image is in a navy blue dress with tulle underskirt and she’s swinging the handcuffs with her hand on her hip in an oddly seductive way.

Meanwhile, the boy toddler cop costume features a boy looking pretty much just like a mini version of a regular cop, speaking into a walkie-talkie.

When the Daily Beast reached out to Kramer, she pointed once again to this costume difference. “The costumes offered by Party City are both unnecessarily gendered and, perhaps most disturbingly, marketed in a manner that overtly sexualizes girls,” she wrote in an email.

“These images intrinsically suggest that girls (but not boys) should find value in being seen and admired for physical appearance, rather than delighting in meaningful interaction with the world around them.”

Party City did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for a comment.

The company deleted Kramer’s letter and temporarily blocked her from posting on the Facebook page, which prompted its own mini uproar.

“Prior to deleting the letter, they posted a response stating, ‘Hi Lin, thank you for reaching out to us. We appreciate the insight and will consider your feedback for the future.’ I have not received any additional response from Party City,” Kramer said.

Party City does offer costumes for toddler girls that are not nearly as sexualized—like the Light-Up Twinkler Witch and Olaf from Frozen. These ensembles, though, are few and far between in the sea of form-fitting ball gowns and sexy jungle cat costumes.

Too many have a Lolita-esque, sexiness that is deeply irksome. I wasn’t sure if it was merely the way Party City chose to have the Purrfect Ballerina Cat costume modeled, but its bodice seemed awfully tight for a toddler, even acting almost as a body-shaper to squeeze out curves and hips.

The Precious Leopard costume is described with a far too sexy “Meow-za.”

Party City says it offers little tots a “wild leopard look”—just what every little girl who is barely potty-trained desires.

In her email to The Daily Beast, Kramer lamented that Party City’s costumes play into the “unnecessarily sexualizing children.”

At the risk of sound like a paranoid pearl-clutcher, worries about the messages sent to young girls were far eclipsed by upsetting thoughts of who else was clicking through these images for non-Halloween reasons.

Furthermore, I was personally struck by how these costumes promote body pressures on an increasingly younger age group.

With nearly all of the offerings for toddler girls, I was struck by how tight they were on the body compared to the looser-fitting options for boys.

Twenty years ago as an overweight girl, shopping for Halloween costumes was a sharp reminder of how different I looked from my classmates.

That was when costumes were looser and longer. I still loved Halloween, but I can’t imagine I would have the same eagerness or affection for the holiday if I was surrounded by so many ensembles meant for the skinniest little ones of all.

Of course, there’s a set of gender pressures placed on boys in Halloween costumes, albeit in a far less sexualized manner. “A lot of the boy costumes are also very stereotyped,” Brody said.

Brody pointed out how the options for boys are often limited to superheroes and athletes.

The former often come up with built-in muscles and unreal male physiques that can place as much body image pressure on boys as girls face from the tight-fitting ensembles. “[They tell boys], ‘You have to be tough. You have to be muscular,’” he said.

Kramer suggested the best response from Party City and other Halloween stores would be to get rid of designations for each sex.

“I think it would be easier for parents, and certainly send a better message to impressionable young kids, if all Halloween costumes were marketed to ‘kids’ rather than to each gender,” she told The Daily Beast. “I would like to see costumes, from Party City and other retailers, marketed with an awareness that boys and girls are capable of being, and frequently are, interested in the same costumes.”

One of the great joys of Halloweens is getting to dress up and try on a new identity for at least one night a year. We should offer little boys and girls the full-range of options to explore—far sweeter, ultimately, than five bowls of mini-Snickers.