One of the fascinating aspects to being a teenager is the ability to express oneself and this opportunity is strong on the night of Halloween. Female and male adolescents can use their wild imagination to become anything they like, from a crass pirate to a bloody zombie to Frankenstein to a princess. There are many ways to be creative on this night that happens only once a year.
However, there are some adolescent girls that are going to use this opportunity to express their sexuality and not their creativity. In an article published in the Dallas News, the authors point out that there is a common theme among female adolescents to sexualize themselves and objectify their bodies. Rebecca Bigler and Sarah McKenney wrote:
Although the solitary act of wearing a sexy costume is unlikely to affect adolescent girls’ development, a generalized interest in being sexually alluring to boys appears to be harmful.
They pointed out that social science has found exposure to sexualized messages is associated with body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, low self-esteem and depression among adult women. Of course, this isn’t happening only on Halloween night, wearing tight fitting clothing, short skirts and high heels is a way of dress that young girls might wear all year round. In fact, in most forms of the media, a certain standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized, sending a particular message to children and teens of the model of beauty to emulate. Although research on the correlation between the sexualization of females and mental illness (such as eating disorders) has been conducted across all age groups, it is worthy of noting that the particular age group that the media often focuses on is young adult women – female adolescents.
The APA defined sexualization as “occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.” Sexualization also occurs when a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy and when sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
The trouble also arises when female teens objectify themselves. Self-objectification occurs when teens learn to think of themselves, their own bodies, as the object of others’ desires. This process begins when female teens internalize an observer’s perspective on their physical body and themselves accordingly. They treat their bodies as objects to be looked at and worthy of evaluation for their appearance.
Furthermore, a study found that the more that girls ages 11 to 15 years old internalize the importance of being sexually attractive to boys, the more they wear tight and cleavage revealing clothing. And another study found that adolescent girls who were preparing to be a part of a newscast prepared for the show differently. Those with higher levels of sexualization spent more time putting on makeup and less time practicing for the newscast.
Sexualization can disrupt a child’s sexual development by getting in the way of building a healthy sexual self-image. The tendency of sexualized teens to be commonly present themselves through the lens of the media affects the beliefs and attitudes of these young girls, and particularly, the way that they conceptualize femininity and sexuality. In fact, the APA indicates that those girls who are more frequently in touch with the mainstream media have stronger attitudes that reflect sexualization. Sadly, this trend is not only specific to America, but affects any country in which females can access Western media. Sexualization is a psychological pattern that can become obstacle to succeeding academically and occupationally. It is important for parents to recognize this pattern in their female teens and learn to encourage their creativity.
In fact, the opportunity for this is Halloween night. If parents notice that their female teens want a sexy costume, they can support their child’s choice of costume theme and then search for a less-sexualized version. Parents might also encourage their teen’s creativity by encouraging them to make their own costumes or inviting their uniqueness by suggesting costumes that reflect their child’s interests. As the authors of the article point out, parents might also explicitly identify features of the costume they don’t agree with and explain the concept of sexualization and the consequences it brings. Furthermore, parents might also explain that wearing revealing clothing distracts from what’s really important about girls and women: their skills, interests and personal qualities.