Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.
Last week he touted the merits of audio books over TV, this week he helps a mother worried about the suggestive nature of her daughter’s Halloween costume.
Q: My pre-teen daughter is dying to go as a sexy vampire for Halloween (she’s a big Twilight fan) but I just don’t feel comfortable with her running around the neighborhood in a short skirt, tight top, and lots of makeup, costume or not. What can I say to her without making this such a big deal?
-Bella’s Nemesis in Belchertown, MA
A: Dear Nemesis,
Halloween is a day to have fun being someone different—but that certainly has consequences, so it should also come with limits. There’s a reason that every October, little boys want to be Superman or star troopers: It shows their aspirations for being mature and powerful. When teens (or adults for that matter) choose costumes that emphasize their sexuality, they are publicizing their desire to be noticed for their bodies.
So it doesn’t necessarily matter how she dresses or who she presents herself as during the rest of the year: Going out in this costume tells the world something about her.
It’s likely you’ll get “But it’s just a book, Mom. She’s just a character.” You can respond by talking with her seriously: What is it about this costume that she likes? Does she realize how people will respond to her in it, and if so, is that what she’s looking for? Be frank: Is she ready to be sexually objectified? Will she be uncomfortable in this costume in front of her peers, older teens, or even people her dad’s age?
Frame your conversation around the ideas of self-awareness and self-respect, and focus on how your daughter wants to be viewed as a whole person. Who knows, maybe there are creative ways you can modify the costume that would allow her to express her love for Twilight but in a less objectifying way. Hopefully, she’ll see the long-term effects of this decision in the larger scheme of choices she needs to make about how she is seen by others—and see you as someone helping her become the person she wants to be.