Sexy lions and sexy tigers and sexy bears! Oh, my!

If you want to see some truly horrifying Halloween imagery, type “teen costumes” into any search engine.

If you want to see some truly horrifying Halloween imagery, type “teen costumes” into any search engine. Unless preteen girls wearing outfits that would make seasoned veterans of the Vegas strip blush are your thing (in which case, e-mail us your name, address and a recent photo and we’ll be right over with the “help” you need), you’ll be pretty scared.

Among the thousands of possible costume options for women and teen girls and hundreds for even younger girls, nearly all of them feature a highly sexualized theme. sells “Naughty and Nice” toddler costumes, a “Miss Wonderland” child costume with mini skirt and corset bodice, a “Little Bo Peep” tween costume with corset bodice and black fishnets and sexualized versions of popular children’s characters for adult women (Ninja Turtles, Cookie Monster, SpongeBob, etc.).

What is so wrong with all of this? Isn’t it all just in fun? Not as far as the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls is concerned. In 2007 it found compelling evidence that when girls and young women are sexualized—and worse, when they learn to sexualize themselves—they experience lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression and discomfort with their own bodies, thus undermining their ability to participate as full citizens.

Sharon Lamb, who co-wrote the task force’s report, says that from dolls dressed in black leather skirts and go-go boots to selling the glamorous life of Hannah Montana to tweens and young girls, the media is pushing boundaries and forcing girls to grow up far too soon. According to Diane Levin, author of “So Sexy So Soon,” the problem is not just the sexualization of young girls, but also the pressure grown women feel to be sexy. Each message reinforces the other and encourages women to regard their looks as paramount to their identity.

Women have been sold exploitation as actualization for centuries (stripper culture, etc.), but selling it to young girls was a masterstroke for every industry that thrives on selling women something to make their bodies into an attractive commodity. It’s blatantly offensive to college-aged and older women, but younger girls have effectively been too inundated by the marketing to know the difference. In fact, much of the infiltration of sexuality into children’s Halloween costumes appears to be part of the commercialization of the 1990s “Girl Power” movement. It started out as an aim to empower young girls to be themselves and then as the message went corporate, it turned into “empowering” young girls to be sexual (and buy all the things that would enable that).

So what can you do? Simple: Don’t wear a sexy Halloween costume. If you are an adult woman making a choice to be sexy, that is one thing. But when extremely young girls wear costumes that are sexualized, they have no context to understand what they are exemplifying or what the implications are. Take a stand, make a real empowering choice and reject the idea that you are only worth what your ass looks like in a toddler-sized Peter Pan costume with fishnets and platform stripper-boots. Set an example for your sisters and younger friends. Change starts with you and you can make a difference. See the Facebook event “NOT WEARING A ‘SEXY’ HALLOWEEN COSTUME” and check out the links listed there for more information. ?