Following accusations from parents that Walmart was sexualizing toddlers by offering a “Naughty Leopard” Halloween costume for little girls, the retail giant stopped selling the item, both in stores and online, on Thursday.
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“We apologize to customers who may have been offended by the name of the costume and we are pulling the costume from our shelves,” a Walmart spokesperson confirmed for Yahoo Shine.
The costume, which consisted of a black tutu with purple trim and a headband with matching ears, was neither sexy nor zoologically accurate. But it didn’t stop people from freaking out after the Consumerist first reported on its existence, based on an angry reader’s tip.
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“What sort of parent buys a costume like this for their little girl? What sort of mind designs it?” was one of the many critical comments flooding Twitter on the topic this week. Others called it “inappropriate” and “horrible.”
Bloggers also went wild, with Pop Sugar noting, “Halloween costumes are supposed to be scary, cute, and sometimes funny. But a 'Naughty Leopard' toddler costume that made its way onto Walmart's shelves is downright disturbing."
Once upon a time, “naughty,” used in reference to a toddler girl obviously meant “disobedient”— as in pouring fistfuls of candy corn into the fish tank. Now, apparently, the word's definition has grown up, no matter what the context. Which led to some back-and-forth over whether it was the costume itself or just the name that was worthy of setting off alarm bells.
Diane Levin, early childhood education professor at Boston's Wheelock College and co-author of “So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids,” explained how there were problems on both ends.
“It captures in a word how society has been transformed. What used to be thought of as adult words now apply to children, too,” Levin told Yahoo Shine. “And Walmart must have known that. They are always pushing the envelope to see what sells—like Miley Cyrus. And outrage is not necessarily bad, as it can prompt people to say, ‘Hey, they have costumes? They’re cheap! Let me see what I can find.’”
Further, she added, “The costume itself is totally inappropriate. Except for the ears, it has nothing to do with a leopard…so a girl wearing it will go around trying to be sweet and pretty so people will say, ‘Oooh, how pretty!’”
Funnily enough, though, the leopard costume was far from the most offensive option this year. A quick online perusal of Walmart toddler-girl getups reveals a slew of scares: a Supergirl costume that’s inexplicably pink; a “cat” outfit consisting of a short tutu dress and ears, plus a near-exact “devil diva” that replaces the ears with horns. For slightly older girls, there are scary-sexy Monster High minidresses and both outdated and racist-stereotype costumes ranging from “Gypsy Child” to “Indian Maiden.”
Other Halloween hang-ups have succeeded in insulting a host of groups. Just this week, two UK stores pulled “Mental Patient” and “Psycho Ward” costumes from shelves after they offended organizations that aim to banish stigmas about mental illness. Last year, eBay removed a seller’s mask of Colorado shooter James Holmes from its site “out of respect for victims of violent crimes.” Also in 2012, elementary schools in Canada banned overly scary or gruesome costumes, asking parents to instead try to come up with more “caring” outfits. And there's a Facebook page dedicated entirely to stopping Native American Halloween costumes, which explains, "We're a culture, not a costume."
Levin had a sound suggestion when considering how to appropriately dress a little one for Halloween. “People should be thinking about costumes for young children that might encourage play or learning,” she said. “Like costumes that have some meaning in a child’s world, and could maybe encourage them to crawl around and actually pretend to be a cat.”
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