Packaging Boyhood: What About BOYS Halloween Costumes?

he-man boyOct. 25, 2016 Update: Given that media is slowly giving more coverage to the impact of body image on boys, including wee ones as young as six years old being ‘fat-shamed’ and toddlers even at age three, it seems sites from WebMD to health platforms are finally beginning to ‘get it’ that boys are being impacted with buffed boy cues and puffy superhero abs too! Choosing a Halloween costume is a great opportunity to amp up some parental critical thinking in time for our U.S.  Media Literacy Week kick off on Halloween Day Oct. 31-Nov. 4, 2016!

I’m adding some of our most relevant posts on Packaging Boyhood, as an “equal opportunity destroyer” to point toward the impact of media and marketing on kids and ask parents to not ‘beware’ but rather…be aware! 

Here’s my updated resource roundup on The Olympics and Body Image: Talking Points to Get it Right  (applies to boys AND girls, actually) and here is a helpful parenting primer on the Olympics from our Canadian media literacy friends at Media Smarts.

As you can see by one of my older posts (2008) on the Adonis Complex, roid rage, buffed boys and the teen scene “hottie factor” this ‘bigorexia’ bit has been building far before the media machinations of Taylor Lautner abs, Magic Mike and 300-The Rise of an Empire fallout…but without a doubt, marketing, movies and media are a massive contributor to selling boys’ insecurities for profit, just like girls have been battling for ages…

It’s definitely a public health lens that needs some clear-eyed viewing, as we ‘reap what we sow’ creating kids’ health problems where they once didn’t exist. Sigh. 

boys body image photo youtubeOriginal Post: Oct. 19, 2009 Last week I promised an ongoing once a week focus on Packaging Boyhood through the remainder of the year regarding boys and how our sons are handling the media-marketing zeitgeist…especially with body image.

I realize I DO focus a considerable amount on girls, body image and so sexy so soon developmental angst, not just because I have a daughter, but because the sexualization is so prevalent, overt, and ‘in your face’ with damaging statistics showing up early on. So yes, I’ve already covered girls’ Halloween Horrors of ‘wicked innocence’ and vamp-n-tramp costumes ad infinitum (who hasn’t, eh?)…but boys? Not so much.

Instead of prostitots and sexed up storybook faire, we have pimp, gangstah, buffed boy body imagery in blow-up-your-muscles he-man style, with bling and bucks to ‘pretend to pay’ for your hookers and make change for your johns. (If you need full evidence of sexist/racist cues, there’s an entire site devoted to–not gonna link, sorry)

Are we having fun yet? Not when parenting articles link the media corollaries for childrens’ distress, like this new one from Michele Borba citing eating disorders, stress and body dissatisfaction hammering boys now too. So today Packaging Boyhood authors and Shaping Youth Advisory Board members Dr. Sharon Lamb & Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown (who were part of the APA girls sexualization study, so have firsthand experience here!) offer part one of a two-part post on boys and Halloween.

lil freddyI realize from time eternal we’ve had superheroes and scary guys but media influence has transitioned to slasher flick scariness and violent, ‘how much can you stand it’ gore-n-guts ghoulishness that makes many a parent cringe (especially when wee ones shouldn’t even be in the ‘target age’ for same)

Now we’re starting to see  heavily commercialized and merchandised twists on some of the same over-hyped, toxic behavioral cues for girls, repackaged for boys. What’s changed? What hasn’t?

Here are the authors of Packaging Boyhood with their thoughts on how and when to turn down the media volume on violence and machismo and put forth some healthier Halloween alternatives for boys.

kids opPackaging Boyhood: Beyond the Cliché

by Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb & Mark Tappan

It’s October and that can mean only one thing.  Halloween.

That special night when, as Cary said in the movie Mean Girls, “girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

This year’s costumes don’t disappoint.  Sexy girl costumes are for sale everywhere — in the malls and drug stores, in catalogs and newspaper inserts.  It’s a special kind of strange to see those tween girl “treats” in the form of pint size French maids, sexed up witches, and nearly bare naked Batgirl costumes.

But what about the boys?

They have their own version of scary, as we point out in our new book, Packaging Boyhood:  Saving our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and other Media Stereotypes.Surf the web, flip through the many catalogs, or walk through department stores beginning in early September to look for a Halloween costume and Boyhood (that’s with a capital B) will assault you at every turn.  Take him to any big box store like Walmart or Target and your little boy can pour over a dizzying array of costumes.

When boiled down, his choices include scary characters, fighters, and heroes – either in super form, like Spiderman or Batman, or the real life version, like police officers, military personnel, or sports stars.

packaging boyhood

For the youngest boys there’s the occasional Pooh Bear or SpongeBob, even a cute puppy or lion, but they are buried in an avalanche of ninjas, special Delta force soldiers, and Transformers.

Halloween for boys is mostly about embodying a sense of power and full-throttle, over the top action.  Boys dress up as men and the version of manhood presented to them is one in which superheroes and warriors are ready to save the world.

Their costumes come with every weapon he needs to control, dominate, and save, and just to prove he’s physically up for the challenge, they come complete with fake muscles.  “Bulging padded ‘muscles’ are stitched into torso, arms and legs,” announces a catalog description. “Transform your little hulk into the most powerful human-like creature.”

Most powerful.  Every costume says extreme action!  Being a soldier is tame, almost boring, compared to being a Special Force Fighter Child, complete with ragged, ripped camo pants and  “3-D foamed muscle top jumpsuit” that fakes 6-pack abs—“A great costume if you want to be Rambo.”

Of course few boys today know who Rambo is, aside from those who have seen Stallone’s recent R-rated sequel with the tagline: “Heroes never die; they just reload.”

rambo costume

lil ramboEven if he’s not allowed to see the movie, the little boy posing in the costume, his camo headband off-kilter, his hands on his hips, his best five-year-old “don’t mess with me” expression, conveys the idea pretty well.

It’s no surprise that Halloween invites boys to dress up as the superheroes they watch in movies or sports stars they admire on TV, but it’s striking how many costumes are just variations of tough guys carrying all manner of weapons.

Fighting crime like Superman and imagining you can dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan or win the Indianapolis 500 like NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson is great fantasy, but just as pink and princess have overrun all manner of girls’ costumes, boys’ costumes have to come with some kind of ninja attitude and fighter paraphernalia.

shadow ninjaAnd more is always, always better.  More stuff, bigger muscles, tougher-sounding descriptions.  Who wants to be just any ninja when you can be Shadow Ninja Bounty Hunter?

This extra-tough guy costume includes a jumpsuit with muscle torso, attached belt, sword, shin guards, apron, hood, and badge.  The red and black mask covers all but his eyes:  “You’d better hope this ninja isn’t on your trail if you’re a fugitive on the run because he always gets his man”…

After seeing costume after costume, he may desperately want to be Super Scary Special Forces Ninja Bounty Hunter Fighter World Saving Man.  After all, marketers know the promise of all that action and power can be irresistible, especially to boys who don’t get the chance to feel that way very often (which is to say, most boys).

But, given a real choice —  a choice that builds action, fun, and adventure around other options — he may not.

If we don’t offer the alternative, how will we know?

Next up? A solutions-based point of view…

Packaging Boyhood authors team up with one of the nation’s all time favorite poppa picks, Joe Kelly (co-founder of Dads & Daughters now offering his wisdom as The Dad Man) to bring you:

10 Tips for BOYS Costumes: Moving Beyond the Cliché

Meanwhile, I’ll add some of my past Shaping Youth ‘oldies but goodies’ with links galore to give you some ideas as well, including old-fashioned imagination with bodypaint (eco-friendly, do it yourself style etc.)

Here’s a mini-roundup from Shaping Youth Archives:

Buffed Boy, Body Image & T(w)een Scene Hottie Factor

Halloween MakeUp Tips For Kids Costumes on the Fly

Halloween, Trend Tracking & a MoshPit of Parenting Styles

Practical Tips to Combat Halloween Horrors of “Wicked Innocence”

Reverse Trick or Treating: Isn’t That..Um..Marketing?

The Life Cycle of Media Madness & Parental Panic: When Annual Candy Scares Go Viral

Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls (boys cologne/packaging etc.)

responsible menHere’s to a healthier Halloween for us all, as this great post at Responsible Men reflects, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Definitely worthy of an in-depth read…as is founder Ted Rutherford’s bio, since he has an up close and personal male point of view on domestic violence and sexual assault, echoing his tagline, “Repair the past, prepare the future” which speaks to his mission at Responsible Men. Definitely would like to interview this gent as well, especially for October’s health awareness and domestic violence prevention month. He’s even written a sequel to that costumes post about men, power and make-believe, called “pay attention to the man behind the curtain” —more worthy words in deconstructing Wizard of Oz style media power and cues landing on boys to men.

Anyway…solutions and tips forthcoming to make Halloween less ‘scary’ for parents and kids by using critical thinking skills in the media and marketing realm. Stay tuned…

A Few Related Articles

Gender Differences: Socially Conditioned, Reinforced Through Media by BlogHer’s Suzanne Reisman

True Child: Masculinity, Bullying & Aggression

True Child: Fast Facts: Stats on Masculinity, Bullying & Violence

DIY: on YouTube

GuyLand: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men

And more on girls’ cues:

Salacious Halloween Costumes Cause Stir

Sexy Halloween Styles For Girls Frighten Adults

Halloween: At What Age Does the Schoolgirl Become Sexy?

Up For Debate: Sexy Halloween Costumes

“Hot” for Halloween: From Girlish and Ghoulish To Racy to Revealing

Visual Snapshot from: Feminist Law Professors

Spooky to Skanky: For Halloween Costumes, Less Is More

The News Observer: They’re Tramps For A Night, But Why?

Alpha Mom: Buzz Off, What Not to Wear This Halloween

Kindergarten Cleavage (from last year but still au courant)

Prostitute Costumes for Tots (Toronto Star, ‘04)



  1. Good post! I, for one, was shocked last year when my then-5-year-old’s Batman costume had a built-in muscle chest. For one, it was uncomfortable for him. For two, why is this even necessary?

    As for the Special Forces gear, well, my husband is in the Army and we really don’t see anything that looks like that around here. 🙂 And, as Dad keeps telling with the guys, use your brains so you won’t have to fight. That doesn’t stop them from slinking around the house playing “spy” and “Special Ops,” but maybe one of these days it will make them think.
    .-= 9to5to9´s last blog ..Looking for a true “progress report” for the guys =-.

  2. Your hubby is a smart man with his positioning…my dad (also military lifer/30 yrs.+ Navy Cptn…and…er…special ops/spy guy…Naval Intell) used to say, “If you want to find a hawk, go to Congress, if you want to find a dove, ask a military man who’s out there in it.” 😉

    So yah…I think stereotypes come from all angles, n’est ce pas? I’m awfully tired of same all around! 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Debra!

  3. Also…a few people have pinged me offline asking for data & stats on the boys’ eating disorders, etc.

    Wanted to add a few nuggets from Michele Borba’s piece here and some other relevant items:

    “At least ten percent of all adolescent girls now suffer from eating disorders. The disease has no boundaries: male or female, young or old, urban or rural, Catholic or Jewish, black or white. Boys now make up about 30 percent of younger children with eating disorders. And the rates are only increasing. Children as young as six these days are diagnosed with eating disorders. Over ten years ago 34 percent of high school girls thought they were overweight; 90 percent believe they are today.”

    Read the rest here…

    Michele Borba

    Boys now make up 30 percent of younger kids with eating disorders: C. Poirot, “Too-thin Kids,” Star-Telegram, Sept. 17, 02.

    More blog notes:

    And I have a gazillion direct links to eating disorder sites too, which you can find on my ‘Buffed Boys’ post here, too:

    (lots about steroid abuse, etc. warning signs, yadayada…)

    just fyi!

  4. Hi Amy! I was wondering when the authors of So Sexy So Soon would get around to talking about how the boys are being bombarded by marketing tactics. Yeah for Packaging Boyhood!

    Been trying to find your contact info besides just Twitter. Wanted to chat with you for a minute about Packaging Boyhood. Would you please contact me with the email given, or DM me on Twitter after following me back??? 😉
    .-= Lin´s last blog ..reSTART Internet Addiction Treatment Center Rehab Program for Computer Internet Addicts =-.

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