Tweens are supposed to experiment with their sexuality. It’s normal.
It’s Halloween season again. So far, my nine-year-old daughter with heavy tween tendencies has wanted to be a broken porcelain doll, a Cheshire Cat girl, and a Galaxy Cat. I’m rooting for the Cheshire Cat girl, personally. All of these costumes will likely involve either a short skirt or dress-over leggings, or just leggings and a shirt (that’s the Galaxy Cat).
She’s not yet at an age where she wants to explore being sexy with her Halloween costume, something I fully expect and understand her wanting to do in a couple of years.
I’ve already read a half dozen articles so far this year about “sexy” costumes for tween and teen girls. Let’s be very clear about this problem with sexy costumes for kids: we’re only talking about girls here. I haven’t heard a soul complain about boy costumes — and that’s telling.
And sure, we sexualize girls pretty early these days, at least when it comes to clothes, while also panicking about pedophiles and sex offenders. It’s a weird dichotomy.
When Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juliet,” there was no such thing as the period we now call adolescence. You were a child, and then when you became sexually mature, you were an adult.
Because of more abundant food, sexual maturity now happens earlier, and the concept of the sexually mature but “growing child” of adolescence was created.
Historian Joseph F. Kett discusses this in an abstract from a paper on the “History of Adolescence in America”:
“The concept of adolescence was developed in the United States between 1890 and 1920. In the hands of G. Stanley Hall and his many followers, adolescence required a moratorium on the assumption of adult responsibilities by teenagers. This prescription of a moratorium broke sharply with the advice given to youth in the 19th century, which urged the quick assumption of adult responsibilities.
Although the concept of adolescence emerged at a time when enrollments in public high schools were increasing at a much faster pace than the population, it is misleading to conclude that the idea of a moratorium during adolescence merely ratified the gradual removal of early teens from productive employment.
Rather than describing the experience of teenagers, the discourse on adolescence in this and subsequent periods has primarily reflected the challenges that adults saw to their own values and the ways in which they adapted to change.”
So basically, you’ve got sexually mature humans forced to live under a newly-constructed definition of “child” and behave accordingly. This conflicts with every signal they’re getting from their own bodies.
Our kids’ bodies are packed full of hormones sending their brains all sorts of chemical messages about sex. For the vast majority of humanity’s existence, tweens and teens became sexually active as soon as their bodies were fertile.
So tweens and teens are supposed to experiment with their image, their gender identity, and yes, even their sexuality. It’s normal.
When I was eleven and twelve, my mother wouldn’t allow me to wear makeup. So what did I do? I put it on while riding the school bus, of course. I wanted to be pretty and I wanted to impress boys.
I also had a dress I adored: a faux velvet with a slit up the leg to the knee (it was the 1970s, so this was a total disco dress). My mother kept asking me why I wanted to look like a prostitute, without really explaining to me what a prostitute looked like, ironically.
But that dress covered me up more than my normal tank top and shorts, so I was very confused about why it was wrong. I felt pretty while wearing it, so why was it bad?
My nine-year-old isn’t yet thinking about being sexy, but she is thinking about being cute. She’s also thinking about being scary, being silly, and being cool. Whatever she decides to wear for Halloween, I’ll let her choose within reason.
She can’t go naked or wear something that doesn’t match the temperature. But ultimately, I trust her to make choices that she’s comfortable with.
In a year or two I might wince a bit if she decides to wear a “hoochie” short skirt as part of her costume and suggest she wears leggings to keep warm, but I’m not going to tell her she’s wrong for wanting to experiment with looking pretty and, yes, even sexy — because she’s just being being a normal kid.
So maybe this year, instead of clutching our pearls and bemoaning “Hoochieween,” we can instead just support our daughters, trust their decisions, and let them have some autonomy over their own bodies. What do you say? —Cecily Kellogg
(Photo: Timothy Hughes/Getty Images)
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