Take Back Halloween: Debunking the Mythology of Market Demand

Update Oct. 22, 2016 Check out the new 2016 Take Back Halloween Costume Contest! (deadline to enter  11-6-16)

And…in case any hipster parents are mumbling “what’s the harm it’s 2016, lighten up, people” I’m adding this “What about the boys” reminder which is wince-worthy realizing I’ve been covering this topic for so long, and this  study on sexualized body image and negative impact on adolescent girls. Finally, there’s the excellent Sexualized Media Messages and our Children  release from 2015 by our own adviser Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker (post to come) about teaching kids to be smart media critics and consumers…Just sayin…Take Back Halloween.org is a much healthier, happier, heartening track.

Update Oct. 28, 2014 Happy Halloween! Thrilled to see so many positive costumes emerging in the fun, fresh Do’s (ugh & Don’ts) cultural zeitgeist for 2014. Don’t miss A Mighty Girl’s costume guide by age books and film media, and their 10-day countdown of contextual goodness!

Oct. 31, 2013 Update Adding Brave Girls Alliance co-founder’s scary then/now post on historic contexts, which concludes with the Salem witch reminders that women’s rights never ‘appeared’ in the first place, much less vanished! Shudder. 

Oct. 27, 2013 “If I could have one wish, it would be for people to stop asking “Why do girls dress like that for Halloween” …

…”And instead ask, “Why are those the only costumes for sale?”

These are the words from Take Back Halloween.org founder Suzanne Scoggins, my all-time favorite imagination station.

Take Back Halloween has brilliantly taken a “Smart Girls at the Party” approach to costume creations, with historic sheroes and notable women including mythological goddesses, and glamorama done right.

Rather than carp about what’s out there, Take Back Halloween is DOING something about it, expanding their fabulous collection of wisdom and style with Kickstarter crowdfunding  right now!

(At left: Pele goddess of fire costume is a favorite for me, as a kamaaina raised in Hawaii!)

Be a Take Back Halloween backer, and add your voice and views on which costumes should be vetted and feted for next season…

…I did, and hope you’ll join me to leverage the momentum for change, as it’s the perfect time to show and tell the power of social media and be a part of a movement that matters, similar to our partners at the Brave Girls Want Alliance who kicked off the “Take Back the Media” global effort in Times Square!

Like our movement at Brave Girls Want, Take Back Halloween is using media literacy and marketing savvy to deconstruct the ‘why things are the way they are’ fiscal piece to follow the money trail and upend the agendas with a powerful “lift and reveal” one-two punch that debunks the hogwash about market demand.

“It’s demand! They’re just responding to demand!” No. Manufacturers are NOT just blindly responding to demand. They’re working overtime to CREATE the demand,” said Take Back Halloween founder Suzanne Scoggins.

“The manufacturers are making decisions about profit margins and doing everything they can to create and nurture demand for the products they want to sell. Americans have just been inundated with neo-libertarian Invisible Hand stuff,” said Scoggins.

And they buy into it. Literally.

To push back on the inescapable, mass merchandised “sexy in a bag” objectification that’s dialed down demographics to damaging, dangerously low age levels of kids’ sexualization, Scoggins’ offerings are a refreshing antidote.

Take Back Halloween is like swigging an elixir to the vile snakeoil being sold in pop culture…

By the way, parents, if you need the APA Task Force cheat sheet on why to avoid early sexualization, or talking points to combat Halloween horrors and counterspin the ‘everyone’s doing it’ social norming chatter, or a thorough Q&A on why it all matters in the context of childhood, consider this a fast debriefing!

Suzanne Scoggins helps set the record straight on gender stereotyping in manufacturing and marketing with connect the dots media aplomb. She packs a powerful punch in her interview candor, to the point where you just want to say, “Tell it!” Here’s more:

“It’s like pink housework toys for girls, or violent video games for young men. We all understand that it’s the manufacturers who design, build, and market those products. We don’t go around saying, “why do 5-year-old girls want pink toys?” We know why.

We don’t complain about how little girls are forcing the toy aisles to be full of pink, and we don’t create self-help videos to give little girls the confidence to reject pink toys. Instead we call the toy manufacturers and say, “Enough! Make toys in other colors, please! Mix it up! Yet with Halloween costumes, it’s like everybody forgets about the manufacturers.

People talk as if 15-year-old girls are just willing this stuff into existence through the sheer force of their hormones. No. Those Leg Avenue style costumes are at the end of a very long supply chain and many decisions about corporate profits and advertising re-use.

No 15-year-old girl had anything to do with any of that. She’s the consumer, being bombarded with messages about how she’s supposed to look and act and what she has to do to be attractive.

The international garment trade loves the “sexy hamburger” type costumes because they’re incredibly cheap to make. The margin on that stuff is phenomenal. Much higher than the margin on more traditional costumes—which, by the way, are still so much in demand that they sell out every year long before Halloween.

Seriously… I know because I’ve tried to use those costumes for Take Back Halloween as resources. I’ve learned that whenever I find a nice costume with a long skirt and maybe some period styling, that puppy will be gone long before October. There’s no point in even linking to it. And that’s with NO advertising behind it.

Instead, the manufacturers promote and advertise the high-margin sexy costumes, which are just spandex tubes.

Minimal material, minimal production. For them, it’s a business decision.

But you know, advertising works… Which means we’re talking about a young girl’s lifelong sense of self being shaped by the decision some middle manager in Hong Kong made about fabric allowances.” —Suzanne Scoggins, Founder, Take Back Halloween.org

I asked Suzanne Scoggins to talk a bit about the difference between sexy and sexualization in the costume sphere.

Though Kristen Schaal’s comedy riff on self-objectification via The Daily Show should help hipsters connect the dots on the absurdity of it all complete with women being positioned as ‘edible art’ forms…It seems we have ALL encountered “that friend” who piously lectures on free agency as an “unoffended” parent, and sees nothing wrong with her wee one strutting a blue Katy Perry wig with whipped cream cans on her not yet developed frame in the name of pop culture “harmless Halloween fun.” 

Granted, some costumes are extremely clever creations with imagination. Others are more about the parents than the kids, which I call “using kids as comedy props” with a page from the Snooki parenting playbook, as I wrote here about the “Heelarious” high heels for babies bit. But then, that’s why I get the “pearl clutching prude” moniker tossed my way annually.

Take Back Halloween’s offerings of ‘sexy’ come with a dose of cerebral cultural context, and a reminder they’re currently designing for WOMEN not kids. Scoggins explains,

“I think most people get what we’re trying to do at Take Back Halloween, but some people don’t…

Every year somebody will point to one of the movie stars in our Glamour Grrls section and say, “But SHE was sexy! You’re a hypocrite!”

It’s hilarious, especially since our descriptions for the Glamour Grrls are full of references to their sex appeal. Damn right, they were sexy!

Where do people get the idea that we’re against sexiness? What we’re against is sexiness being the only option. It’s like full-time motherhood: it’s a beautiful thing. If any woman wants to do that, good for her…But a world where motherhood is the only thing women are allowed to do? No. Allow me to introduce you to my little friend, Feminism.

We’re also against sexiness being defined by the incredibly limited contours of the international garment trade. That’s one reason our Glamour Grrl category is there. It’s an antidote to the spandex tube costumes…

I know very well that sometimes a woman wants to really glam it up and look as good as possible; I’m trying to help her! Look at Mae West, look at Audrey Hepburn, look at Diana Ross: there are many ways to be fantastically glamorous. Sexy comes in all shapes and sizes. Find a style that suits you and makes you feel good, and go with it.

Sexy also isn’t just about appearances. The sexiest thing that any human being can be is smart. Our whole species is geared toward intelligence. We’re fascinated by each other’s brains and personalities. There is nothing sexier than someone who’s smart, creative, interesting, and thoroughly herself.

Obviously we don’t encourage young girls to be sexy. But young girls are thinking ahead about how to be women, and positive messages now about individuality and creativity will help them develop a healthy sexuality when they’re older.

Be yourself, I always tell girls; find your own genius and trust it. You don’t have to be some girl in an ad. And the more energy you spend trying to be that other girl, or act out a role you think guys want to see, the less you’ll be able to really live your own life.” —Suzanne Scoggins, Founder, Take Back Halloween.org

With that in mind, for young girls’ check out “50 Mighty Girls in Costume” from our friends at A Mighty Girl which I wrote about here. Need Halloween Books & Film that inspire girls? A Mighty Girl has compiled and indexed that media, too!

These are all stellar ideas to “Redefine Girly” (parenting book arrives Jan. ’14) and think about all kinds of historic contexts to weave in pertinent storytelling that ALSO ties in with today’s pop culture positively. Kids like seeing the movie “Gravity,” for example? Well, Sally Ride is clearly not your only costume choice; thread in global context to uplift and inspire with “50 years of Female Astronauts: Women in Space”

Adult ‘girl geeks’ who prefer Take Back Halloween’s “Glamour Grrls” to Ada Lovelace costumes might want to peek at the fascinating historical contexts of inventors with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) even with scandal and controversial edginess  threaded in to their costume. Who knows there might be a Hedy Lamarr teaching moment blending tech savvy inventor status of frequency hopping and spread spectrum communications with Hollywood celebrificiation and glamorama.

I put forth these concepts mostly to embrace the effort to ditch the STEM media stereotypes of engineers as poindexters, as there’s something very cool about Take Back Halloween’s ability to use innovation for education, masquerading informal learning as a fun fest.

This applies to arcane roles in history only recently coming to light too, like Denise Kiernan’s book, “Girls of Atomic City The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. There are plenty of conversational opportunities and new ways to uncork diversity in the historic mix too, like focusing on contributions of people of color in the settling of the wild west, like Mary Fields aka Stagecoach Mary found on the black cowboys site. As a creative director with a marketing/branding background I can’t help but see a HUGE vision for Take Back Halloween as a social enterprise/edu-entrepreneurial venture.

So that begs the ‘what’s next’ question for Suzanne Scoggins…She’s left some of that up to her Kickstarter donors to help choose, even $5 helps in these final 5 days!

“The response to our Kickstarter has been astounding, so for our last stretch goal we’re going all out.

The big new thing we’re going to try is a Couples Costume. A male/female couples costume.

Yep…actual testosterone, right there on Take Back Halloween…Possibly even facial hair. We’ve never done a men’s costume, so this will be an experiment. People have been asking us to do something for the guys ever since our very first year. I don’t see us going into men’s costumes as a standalone category, but a couples category seems like a natural extension.

If you’re dressing up as Queen Victoria for Halloween, naturally you might want Prince Albert with you. So we’ll see how it goes. It will also be really interesting to see which couple our backers want us to do. We’re going to put it up to a vote, which will be a lot of fun.” —Suzanne Scoggins, Founder, Take Back Halloween.org

Finally, for hands-on help for last minute revelers, I had to ask if she thought Malala would be a big hit this year, given her presence at the International Day of the Girl and her Nobel Peace Prize nomination. I know Malala will surface as a costume many times among daughters in our “women in leadership” circles here in the SF Bay Area…

I asked Suzanne what other tips she could give for costumes on the fly. She said,

“The easiest last-minute costumes are ancient Greek, ancient Roman, that general era.

Garments were draped rather than sewn, which means you can rig up a costume with a bedsheet and some safety pins.

If you have a sheet, some food, and some leaves, you can be Demeter . If you have a sheet and a bowl of water, you can be Themistoclea. If you just have a sheet (and maybe a girlfriend), you can be Sappho…

And Malala! If Malala had won the Nobel Prize, we were going to do a last-minute quickie costume for her. I really thought she would win, and stayed up the night before figuring out how to do a fake Nobel medal. But she’s an amazing person and I hope she’ll have a tremendous future in Pakistan and on the global stage.”

Clearly Suzanne Scoggins has the quick-witted brains and snappy, erudite comebacks of a media pro who deserves to center stage in the Halloween costume conversation with talk show pundits who all too often default to rehashing the same ol’ baiting outrage sexualization bit rather than look to solutions-building answers like the Take Back Halloween Kickstarter campaign or the Brave Girls Alliance to “Redefine Girly” and Take Back Media…or A Mighty Girl’s plethora of positive offerings from media, books and toys to costumes and clothing, with further Halloween resources to read. 

Today Show, Good Morning America, Ellen, Kimmel, whomever…these are your ‘go to’ gals.

These are the voices we want to hear. People changing the channel of influence and doing something about market demand in a pro-active, solutions-based manner.

Please, media: Shine those hot spotlights on the POSITIVE. Brightly, please. Make those manufacturers sweat.

Take Back Halloween!

More Halloween Posts by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

Practical Tips to Combat Halloween Horrors of “Wicked Innocence”

Halloween Media: FREE Apps, Sendables, Playlists, Games

Telling Kids Creative Doesn’t Count? (Storebought Slam)

Packaging Boyhood: What About BOYS Halloween Costumes?

Halloween Beyond the Cliche (Part 2/Boys)

Halloween MakeUp Tips For Kids Costumes on the Fly

Halloween, Trend Tracking & a MoshPit of Parenting Styles

Monsters In the Movies: What Scares You?

I’m Not A Prude, But…

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

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

Saw III Splatter Flick: Bloody Gimmicks. Really Red Cross?

Update! Check Out these Adios Barbie Activism Resources: A “Liberate Halloween Action Kit” complete with notices to stick on offensive costumes, created by One Angry Girl.net in partnership with the Spark Movement!

Update AGAIN: This just in from Suzanne Scoggins…Media Coverage within the last 24 hours…Can we say ‘backlash brewing?’ Tipping point? Sexualization finally jumping the shark? Parents…ARISE! Exciting times…

Washington Post

The Daily Beast

Suzanne added, “Unfortunately, I just had to turn down an offer to be on the Today show.  It was a thrill to be asked, but the last-minute logistics just don’t work.  Also in the past 24 hours or so…”

The Mary Sue

Incredible Things

Lean In

YES! :)


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