Halloween is not my favorite holiday. I don’t like all the creepy costumes associated with darkness. But it is not just the creepy costumes that bother me. Too many of the costumes, regardless of how you feel about Halloween, send the wrong message to young girls.
Have you looked at the offerings for young girls. Like most fashion, the costumes sexualize the girls. Short skirts, fishnet stockings, revealing body parts — a sharp contrast to the boys. Take the pirate costume for example, eye patch, baggy pants and top for guys. Same for the girls except the girl pirate wear a short skirt.
Maybe you are thinking, really, Dr. Linda, now you are harping on costumes!
I am, and here is why. I like to take every opportunity to point out the messages to young girls about their bodies.
Media help move this message. Think back on the movie, Mean Girls, and the line the mean girls give, “Halloween is the one night a year you can be a slut and get away with it.” Then, the mean girls make fun of a girl who doesn’t dress like a slut. It’s not just Miley Cyrus swinging on a wrecking ball, but also a fashion industry determined to sexualize girls at a young age.
Why do I care?
Because the message that it is all about your body continues to be fed to our girls. And we know that sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandizing and media are harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development (American Psychological Association, 2007).
Halloween is a huge merchandizing holiday, filled with naughty and sexual costumes for fun! But the message to have fun and be noticed is to sex it up. And I see the fall out of this message in middle schools, high schools and colleges–Girls who think they have to look like prostitutes to get noticed, and guys who think they have to score to be popular. Record rates of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction along with negative self-image are consequences of an over emphasis on physical beauty and sexing it up.
Parents, talk to your kids about their choices in costumes if they participate in dress up. Find something that doesn’t demean or sexualize them. Reinforce the message that your child is more than a sexual object or physical beauty.
You know I have written on the dangers of tanning beds before (Six Reasons Why You Should Rethink Tanning), but now, one country is going beyond the warnings and actually banning the beds. Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world and decided to take action. Tanning beds are considered a carcinogen, the same as cigarettes and other types of cancer producing agents. Tanning beds have been linked to skin cancer, premature aging and even eye damage.
So while the US places warnings on these beds, know the risks are great enough that Brazil and now Australia are going to bans. The US is trying to tighten its oversight, recommending people under the age of 18 not use these beds. A study in JAMA Dermatology reports that nearly half of all cancers are from skin cancer in the US. Medical evidence supports a ban. Our fascination with tanning comes at a price and we are seeing a record number of younger people with skin cancer and melanoma.
So talk to your kids about the importance of not using these beds.I know for events like prom, homecoming and other awards, high school students like to tan to look good in their gowns. This “look” comes at a price not worth it. We need to start a new trend, one that appreciates the untanned look. Because looking good at homecoming is not worth a melanoma a few years later.
Here are a few phrases that will probably bring more tension. I was inspired by Gina Barreca’s recent blog to put a relationship twist on common phrases we use, but maybe we shouldn’t.
I would try to avoid these or respond in ways that lowers the tension.
1) We need to talk. This can’t be a good sign. This usually means something has been brewing beneath the surface and is building.
2) Admit it, your mother doesn’t like me. Even if she doesn’t, don’t agree with this. Instead, work on the relationship.
3) I thought it was funny but I didn’t see you laughing. This means you have to like what I like and you can’t be different. Let the person be him/herself.
4) So why are you friends with that guy/girl if you don’t have feelings for him/her? Sounds desperate, like you are jealous and can’t handle his/her relationships.
5) I might have thrown it away. I don’t remember. Sounds insensitive, like you don’t care about what he/she bought you.
6) Maybe I would be more understanding if you would tell me something about it. Can you feel the tension just reading this. This is an indirect accusation. Be direct. What do you want to know?
7) Which of my friend would you be interested in if I died? Do not answer this. There is no good answer. Say, “No one could replace you!”
Mary came to me for therapy. She weighed 305 and was told multiple times that her current weight was putting her at risk for serious medical issues. She was 28-years-old and the mother of a 5-year-old. She admitted that keeping up with her young son was becoming a problem.
Desperate, she started taking laxatives, vomiting and starving herself. She dropped over a hundred pounds, but was sent to me for eating disorder treatment. The harm she was doing to her body was due to the way she lost the weight. And her relationship with food was very negative. It was her battleground. Something she fought.
Mary is not alone. I have treated numerous patients who lose too much weight too quickly, using harmful methods. Unfortunately this may be a fall out related to all the obesity messaging we now have. More young people are developing eating disorders.
So while our obesity rates have leveled off to one third of the population, and we are actually seeing a decrease in low-income and preschool children, we have another problem. A subset of people are taking the lose weight message seriously, but doing so in harmful ways. Too dangerous, too much, too soon can lead to heart-rate abnormalities, fainting, heart attack and even death. The pressure to diet and lose weight can create a fear of being fat, social isolation and other symptoms that trigger an eating disorder.
In my opinion, without treating the psychological/emotional use of food and eating, the risk to go from one extreme to the other exists. We see this in hospital treatment–obese people go to the other extreme and develop eating disorders.
So while the message to lose weight is needed, it has to include developing a positive relationship with food and losing weight sensibly. Lifestyle messages are more important than the number on the scale. One of the fallouts from all the talk about overweight kids is that we have missed the more important message of being healthy and fit. Kids tend to see the number on the scale, get reinforced for losing weight because they look more attractive, and may get stuck in that mindset–I can be more socially acceptable, rather than, I can be healthier.
If you need to lose weight for health reasons, do so in a healthy way. Slow, steady, eating well, not viewing food as your enemy. Dieting is dangerous and one of the main entrees into eating disorders.