We were in the Halloween department at Party City and under the gun: A needed a costume for a Girl Scout camping trip the next day, and I figured we’d knock out one for B at the same time. B knew what he was looking for, while A was undecided and would need to consider her options.
We stood before a wall of white squares, each bearing the image of a child dressed as a different character, some familiar from movies, TV, or books; some that have haunted our dreams for decades, like witches, zombies, vampires, and werewolves. As B scanned the pictures in search of the perfect pirate outfit and A trolled for ideas, a disturbing pattern took shape before my eyes.
The costumes were categorized by sex and then by age within each sex. The boys’ costumes were what I’ve come to expect over the years I’ve been buying them: superheroes, firefighters, police officers, soldiers, cartoon characters, and the aforementioned scary dudes. A boy could fulfill his fantasies of strength or power, could assume the persona of one of his own heroes, could see what it felt like to wear the uniform of an American icon.
A girl could dress as a pole dancer in training.
I do exaggerate slightly. But only slightly.
The costumes for little girls were cute, that much is true. There were little witches, fairies, kitties, and bumblebees, for example; any toddler would look adorable gussied up in them.
But then we arrived at the tween costumes, from which A would choose. These could be classified as follows:
Trampire and variations
Sexy professional (options included police officer, nurse, and – I am not making this up – veterinarian)
Sexy dress-up outfits (including pirate, fairy, cat, bunny, and gypsy fortune teller)
Every costume was clingy, stretchy, mini, and designed to push up and suck in features that your average 10-year-old has yet to develop. Tiny little skirts. Over-the-knee socks. Bodices that on a grown woman would leave nothing to the imagination and on a pre-teen would have any mother dizzy and nauseated from the speed at which we’re arriving in Lolita territory. And all this was pictured with hair and makeup styling that would do Ke$ha proud.
Honey Boo Boo’s mother could have dispensed with the Dolly Parton getup and done just fine with the raw materials she’d find here.
When did this happen? When did some marketing person decide that a little boy can be a hero, but a girl can only dress as something for that hero to drool over? How did the old “Tween Costumes” range turn into “L’il Skanx”? And, perhaps more disturbing, where did childhood, and its attendant innocence, go?
Little girls have always wanted to grow up before their time. My friends and I certainly did. We wanted to go to R-rated movies, ride in cars with boys, and, well, plenty of other things that I won’t admit in such a public forum. We wanted to wear makeup and dress like Madonna – what can I say, it was the 80s. We were trying on personas, figuring out who and what we wanted to be, and how we wanted to present ourselves. We fought over it with our parents, especially our moms, who preferred that we not wish away our youth and relative innocence, who knew what it was to grow up and to BE grown up and have grown-up problems and worries…and who wanted us to wait until we were old enough to handle them rather than jump into the perils of adulthood at sixteen.
There I stood with my twelve-year-old daughter, staring down that wall of tween pulchritude, wondering what she would pick out, bracing myself for the arguments, the “Why not?” and the “Everybody else does!” and the “But it’s cute!”
I readied my responses: “I don’t care what everybody else does. I’m no everybody else’s mother.” And “You don’t want the kind of attention that outfit will get you.” And “Because I said no, that’s why.” (Hey, it’s a mother’s prerogative, and I only bust it out when I’m totally at a loss.)
The argument didn’t come. A regarded the wall, sighed, and said , “I already know what you’re going to say. They’re trampy. So what am I allowed to wear?”
How well she knows me.
With a sigh of relief, I regrouped and went into creative mode. After scouring the department from one end to the other, we finally agreed on a costume. A would wear a long-sleeved black leotard and black leggings. On her head would perch a large raven attached to a headband, and we found a feather collar she could wear to add to the effect. Voila – Poe’s raven. And when she’s finished with the bird, I’ll be all set for football season.
For the time being, we said “Nevermore” to growing up fast. One day she may thank me for it – but for now I’ll settle for seeing her fully clothed on Halloween night.