Dear Halloween: My Daughter Just Wants to Be a Tiger

Each year around this time, I ask our kids what they want to be for Halloween.

This year, our 9-year-old animal-loving daughter immediately shouted, “TIGER!” Okay, Sweetheart, I replied. Let’s see what we can do.

I asked Google to show me “girl’s tiger costume,” and this is what it tossed back:


Huh. Okay. Apparently when I typed “girl’s tiger costume,” Google thought I typed “flirty, sassy, or uber-sexified costume made of some sort of tiger print (unless you’re a toddler).”

Looking over my shoulder, my daughter’s exact words were, “WHAT is THAT?! That’s not a tiger costume! Neither is that! And neither is THAT!” She was completely offended, but for totally different reasons than I was. For her, they just don’t look realistic. She wants to be a real tiger.

For me, they represent the early and earnest oversexualization of our girls. My girl. My strong, healthy, self-assured, in-no-way-old-enough-to-even-have-sexy-in-her-lexicon girl.

Taking the word “girl” out of the search brought a few different options, though the vast majority were for kids younger than 6. It was surprisingly difficult to find a decent, realistic tiger costume for a 9-year-old.

And I’m irked by the fact that simply searching for a costume with the word “girl” in it brings up so many of these kinds of sassy/flirty/borderline-sexy results.

Yesterday, a friend shared this article about a “naughty leopard” costume for a 2-year-old. The costume itself isn’t as bad as the name makes it sound (though, again, a black and purple frilly dress does not a leopard make), but the Evolution of Girls’ Halloween Costumes slideshow at the end of the article is a real eye-opener.

Seriously, what the flip, people?

The article calls out the manufacturers and marketers of the costumes, which I understand. However, I don’t expect much different from marketers. They sell the people what they want. I think we really need to be looking at the people who buy the idea that this is okay. The people who purchase these costumes because they think they’re “cute.”

I get it, sort of. After you look at ten or twelve of them, that whole desensitization thing kicks in and some of those “girly” costumes do start to seem kind of cute. But let’s examine how young girls’ costumes end up looking like that in the first place by starting with adult costumes and going backwards.

This is what a Google search for “woman tiger costume” pulls up:

I know those images are a little small, but you can see pretty clearly that almost none of these costumes are meant to resemble an actual tiger. An actual stripper? Yes. Tiger? No.

I’m reminded of the scene from “Mean Girls” where Cady says, “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

So basically, I’m slut-shaming Halloween. Pretty unapologetically. I’d love to leave the sexy adult costumes out of it, but I’m a Mama Bear, and this trend affects our children – both the little girls whose costumes are being modeled after these sexy adult ones, and the little boys who are forming their image of females.

The fact that the sexy adult costume thing has trickled down into children’s lives is not okay with me. I don’t want my girls thinking that’s what it means to be a grown-up in Girl World. And I really don’t want to see little girls reflecting that “world” in their childhood Halloween costumes.

I know some people are going to say I’m overreacting or overreaching. And looking at individual costumes doesn’t show the whole story. But check this out:

When I went to the biggest online halloween shop and put in the following search terms, these are the costumes that came up side by side (pardon the fuzziness – these are screenshots):












Ummm . . . those last two are the exact same costume. I’m not the only one who sees this, right?

The question is, are we modeling young girls’ costumes after the sexy adult ones? Or modeling the sexy adult costumes after the cute little girl ones? 

Either way, ew.

But what really concerns me is the popular notion that these kids’ costumes are “cute” or “stylish,” which somehow makes it all hunky dory. More and more we seem to be taking sexy adult fashions, barely modifying them, and then calling them “cute” and “stylish” on little girls.

I don’t think people even see it for what it is. Why would girls want to dress up like that “cuddly lion” above instead of an actual lion? Who is plopping the idea in girls’ heads that a short skirt, choker collar, and mesh elbow gloves have anything to do with dressing up as a ladybug for Halloween?

Personally, I think that as a society we’ve become so obsessed with being sexy that we’ve let this happen. Slowly, year by year, the costumes (and clothing in general) for girls push the envelope further and further, and it happens younger and younger. And the words we use to describe these clothes and costumes only serve to gloss over the truth: “Sassy” and “flirty” and “stylish” – and quite often even “cute” – have become fashion synonyms for “sexy for children.”

I don’t think it’s overreacting to question this. And I don’t think it’s overreaching to say that parents probably play a significant role in it. Marketers are catering to the clientele. I’m just trying to figure out how. Perhaps some parents don’t want to project the idea of sexualization onto their daughters, so they don’t question or discuss their clothing or costume choices, thereby letting the sexualization happen as it may? Perhaps some parents are so immune to the constant barrage of sexual images in the media that they don’t recognize how close these girls’ costumes actually are to the sexy adult versions, or see how that is problematic? Perhaps some mothers are struggling with their own sexual or body image issues and therefore live vicariously through their daughters, wanting them to be seen as they’ve never been able to see themselves? Maybe?

I don’t know. All I know for sure is that my daughter wants to be a tiger, and a frilly tiger-striped tutu and fishnet tights isn’t going to cut it in her eyes.

Thank God.

Note: I first published this post in 2013. This year (2015) I have noticed that while all of these costumes are still being sold, there are more options for kids’ animal costumes that actually resemble real animals. So hopefully, parents speaking out and asking for more options has made a difference. After all, they only sell what we buy. 

 If you enjoyed this post, please pass it along. You can follow Motherhood and More on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 11

  1. I wish more parents would read this and agree. Take the blinders off people! Halloween isn’t really a kids holiday, even though we’d like to think it is. It’s a day when debauchery has free reign. And adults & teens have the permission of society to be as sexy, scary, and base as they want to be. There’s a certain giddiness to behave sinfully that really baffles me. I feel like the only sober one at a frat party. We don’t do Halloween for this reason (and others – look up the origins of the day – yikes!).

  2. I made the terrible mistake of googling “Hello Kitty Costume” last year around Halloween, as my then 3 yr old wanted a Hello Kitty themed bday party & wanted to dress as Hello Kitty for Halloween (bday is just a week b/f Halloween). I know, I should have known better, as HK is one of more popular vehicles for the infantilization of young women, but I googled anyway. My goodness, I wish that I could erase most of those images from my memory!

    Thanks for writing this post; you touch on some really important and relevant issues at stake here.

  3. We were never allowed to have store-bought Halloween costumes. Not only are there all of the gender issues at play that you discussed (and most of the boys’ costumes are based on violent roles and are just as gender-normative), but because the costumes are usually of incredibly poor quality and contribute to the consumerism inherent in our culture. I never really enjoyed dressing up so I was usually a gypsy or 50’s girl or something where I could wear near-normal clothes, but my sister came up with really creative things (our parents helped her make them). She was camera one year (cardboard boxes and a black beret) and a football player another year.

    1. Agree about the quality and consumerism. And the sad truth is that most of those costumes are probably made in sweatshops somewhere in Southeast Asia. Personally, I like to go to Goodwill for Halloween costumes. There seem to be a lot more choices, some of the same ilk as this post, but some homemade, and the more expensive higher-quality ones for cheap.

  4. Conversely, if you Google “boys tiger costume” you get a wealth of adorable, tiger-looking costumes. The impact of gender is scary, and clearly demonstrates how the culture is oversexualizing little girls. Great post.

  5. I want to applaud you for taking the time to write this. I hope more people can admit to themselves that this is actually happening and actually care enough to do something about it. You know it is cheaper for these companies to market the costumes like this- there is such little effort and less fabric to worry about- I wonder if it is just money making to them. Regardless, we should vote with out cash and let them know we don’t want it.

  6. The costume makers deserve to be “slut-shamed”. And so do those who make costumes for ballerinas. We switched over to gymnastics for our daughter after her “recital” costume looked like a French Maid from an XXX store! YUCK, particularly on a FOUR YEAR OLD!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *