Sluts abound

Welcome to Halloween Season, folks.

Around my house, Halloween means everyone gets dressed up in something absolutely freaking adorable and runs around like little hooligans, trying to scam candy.  (Yes, this includes me and my husband.  I may even be reduced to putting up a picture later this week…we’ll see.)

But then, my kids are 4 and 7, and haven’t yet realized that Halloween is really a contest to see who can look like the bigger slut.  Or whore.  Or kitty-cat who’s single and ready to mingle (meow!)  I was out dancing this weekend, and saw some truly dreadful costumes that the wearer was clearly quite proud of because they showed as much skin as possible.  (I also saw a truly adorable 20’s gay boy in a sailor’s outfit that actually covered him, so in all fairness, not everyone is completely trashy.)  So welcome to Halloween, one week early!  Putting aside the irritation of drawing out holidays as long as humanly possible (see Christmas trees much, yet?), I’ll roll my eyes at the 19 year-olds and 20-somethings who like to strut their stuff half-nude for Halloween.

But what of the middle school girls who are trying to convince their parents to let them go as prostitutes?  (Because yes, I know at least a few of them.)  If I were asked (and I haven’t been), the answer should be no.  Does this mean I’m anti-sex-worker?  Does it mean I’m trying to pretend middle school students don’t have hormones?  No.  It has more to do with middle school students (particularly the girls) learning how to appreciate, understand, and use their sexuality in appropriate ways.  And dressing up like a streetwalker doesn’t fall into that category.  Oh, and middle school girls are generally still young enough that just saying no is still appropriate.

Now what about a high school student?  Well, it gets a lot trickier there.  If they really want to dress up like a prostitute, I would want to know why.  I would want to go into some detail about their reasoning.  Is it because they want to make a public statement in favor of Proposition K in San Fransisco?  Is it because their friends are going as prostitutes and they feel pressured – or excited – to join in on the group dynamics?  Is it because they recently picked up a pair of shorts at a garage sale and really want an excuse to wear them and all they can think of that’s in line with the shorts is a prostitute?

And then what about the more subtle slut costume – the pirate or the fairy or the super hero costume that bares far-too-much?

Well, simply putting your foot down with high school students just isn’t a good strategy.  Your teenager is just as likely to make a costume to wear in front of you, and then take whatever it is they really want to in their backpacks and change into it at school.  Your level of control is waning, and you will find yourself in a much stronger position if you look to conversation and a trusting relationship as influences on your child’s Halloween costume choices rather than your ability to put your foot down and demand something that covers their entire ass.

And you’ll have to accept that, even if you do bring the full force of your conversation, and even if you feel like you’re finally understanding each other, your child may still choose to dress like a slut for Halloween.  This is the way of the world, that teenagers are testing boundaries (their own, other people’s, anywhere they can find them!).  Putting your foot down and ensuring that they are doing as you want rather than what they want will force them underground, or force them to wait a few years and do it at college – where there is far more alcohol, drugs, and more serious long-term legal ramifications of their choices.

It’s not a bad thing for teenagers to do a bit of rebelling and testing and learning during high school.  It teaches them lessons to take with them through life, while they still have the luxury of living at home with a caring adult who will take the time to talk them through their choices before they make them, and then analyze the results afterwards.  Not to mention coming and picking them up and getting them out of hot water when need be.

Choose your battles, I guess is what I’m saying.  Yeah, that costume may be really trashy and inappropriate for a 16 or 17 year old.  It may, in fact, be really trashy and inappropriate for anyone of any age.  So talk about that, but don’t fight the tide too much.  It’s going to come in sometime, and better that you’re there to help clear the wreckage or throw the life preserver when they go in over their heads than that they’re alone because they’ve lied to you and feel they can’t call for help.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Unlike you, I have no costume-making skills, so I either buy something at Target or I get my mom to order something out of a Lillian Vernon catalog. Last year, I squeezed my two-year-old into a baby costume. This year, I’m dressing her in a boy costume. Why? Because all of the GIRL costumes are sexual! Even for three-year-olds! WTH is wrong with people?!

  2. I am so uncomfortable with this post, beginning with the title. Sluts Abound? From what foundation, from what assumptions, do we even use that word? That “sluts” exist, certainly. Karen, please take this word out of your vocabulary unless you are advocating reclaiming it. (A fabulous book, Cunt, was written by a young woman from Evergreen College. The title was all about re-claiming the word.)

    Part of what Halloween costuming is all about is being able to inhabit a personae that you don’t usually wear. And in our sexually repressed culture, of COURSE people will want to inhabit that forbidden side, that forbidden aspect.

    I don’t have time this morning to fully develop my thoughts on this, but they include recoiling at the thought that there are costumes “trashy and inappropriate for anyone of any age.” This whole post seems the opposite of sex-positive, which I usually expect from your blog.

    I understand the huge problem with our culture sexualizing children, girls, at younger and younger ages. And, of course, that is where so much of this position comes from. But we can’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. The conversation needs to include the natural human tendency to be sexy, to have fun, to enjoy the sexual arena. This includes the attentions of perfect strangers, as well as our beloved, familiar loved ones.

    Anyone else?

  3. Ruth, the problem is that Halloween has become completely overblown – as Alice points out, it’s hard to find costumes for even 3 and 4 year olds that aren’t sexualized.

    Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays – I love dressing up, and I think it’s a fabulous passtime. As adults, it’s fine to use that expression in whatever way you see fit. But this push to allow it in ever-younger, ever-more-sexualing ways is not fine.

    I’m sorry my language offended you – I wrote it quickly, in irony, and in anger at this culture we live in. I hope you can understand it more completely in that light.

  4. yes, Karen, I do understand it in the light you explain. It is a very challenging topic. Our culture is so very toxic and sick around sexuality.

    Where is the niche market for people who don’t want their kids in commercial costumes?? Of course, our consumer/materialistic economy drops to the lowest common denominator and appeals to the baser instincts. So, just as you do each year, Karen, others can follow by your example and simply stop purchasing the costumes they abhor. And in a family culture that notices and discusses the challenges in the culture at large, children can live with costumes that don’t follow the latest trends, the latest movie-fast-food-restaurant marketing tie-ins.

    What a challenge it all is!

  5. I consider myself very liberal on matters sexual, but this whole notion of little kids dressing up like prostitutes irritates me. I would argue that it promotes the sexualization of kids, and that in turn promotes low self-esteem in later years.

  6. I agree, Paul. And here’s a good way to approach this conversation:

    Child: “I want to be a prostitute for Halloween.”
    Parent: “That’s interesting. What is a prostitute?”

    Many kids will have heard the word, know that it’s something a bit racy, a bit sexy, but not much else.

  7. And then there’s the middle school kid who REALLY throws you a curveball – because she wants to dress up like a prostitute, but specifically one of the Lovely Ladies from Les Miserables, and while the costume is instantly identifiable, it also shows less skin than a NON-slutty cheerleader outfit.

    I punted and redirected her and she went as Siouxsie Sioux instead, which she liked because she got to raid my closet.

  8. All in all it is going to be up to the parent to let the child wear something that is appropriate. If you are offended by it don’t let the your child wear it. To say a child is going to have low self esteem from wearing a costume maybe a little off. Who the child is and what values they have will come from the core family values that the child is taught by the parents.

  9. Sorry Halloween Costumes, but you’re wrong. There is a superficially narrow range of potential Halloween costumes out there for all the parents – like Alice – to purchase for their kids. It’s obnoxious. Stores like yours (yes, I took out your URL because I didn’t care for you to get advertising off my site) sell crappy costumes at cheap prices that contribute to the shrinking of American children’s imagination. You can’t put this one off entirely on the parents. Yes, it is a parent’s responsibility to pass on core family values. And it’s the responsibility of a responsible retailer to provide items that do not completely undermine that process. The free market has not worked in this area to support developmentally appropriate responses to children – just like it hasn’t worked in the race to have the skinniest, most emaciated 14-year-old model.

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