My son wants to be Spider-Man for Halloween. So, like the procrastinating, non-crafty mother that I am, I went to the store in mid-October to find him a costume. The costume I found had fake, large chest muscles and a six pack—a costume made to look like an extremely strong, sexy man, except this costume was made to fit a 3-4-year-old boy.
I bought the costume anyway, even though it made me somewhat uncomfortable. The reason I bought the costume is that it’s mid-October, and I probably wouldn’t find a better costume anywhere else in time for trick or treating. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have found a superhero costume that didn’t have some kind of feature emphasizing strong muscles. Look at most superheroes in modern times and you will see that their muscles are a defining feature of their look. Ironman, Superman, Wolverine, The Green Lantern, The Flash—all of these superheroes are exponentially more muscular now than in the original drawings.
When we emphasize to boys from a very young age that strong muscles will win them things in life—money, girls, power—we’re sending them the wrong message. The message we’re sending is that the more in line their bodies are with the current beauty ideal of masculinity, the further ahead they will get in life.
Why is no one talking about sexy Halloween costumes for young boys? Why is no one talking about the fact that we are sending the wrong message about body image to our young sons? Why is no one talking about body dysmorphia and how common bigorexia is becoming in not only men but also teenage boys? Shouldn’t we as parents be concerned that the over-emphasis on muscular everything from the age of four might be contributing to unrealistic views of the human body, which then might contribute to disorders like body dysmorphia?
There isn’t enough outrage about what body image issues do to young boys. Case in point: In 2014, Value Village in Vancouver Canada pulled girls’ “sexy Halloween costumes” after a mother complained publicly that the costumes were inappropriate. Outrage poured on social media about the inequality between girls’ and boys’ Halloween costumes and clothing in general. But very few people seemed concerned that certain boys’ Halloween costumes were just as bad. Perhaps these costumes didn’t show as much leg or made boys look like sexy French maids, but nevertheless, these costumes—like my son’s beefed-up Spider-Man—are sending very young boys the message that visibly strong muscles equal social power. That a certain look will help them achieve anything in life. That their muscles will win them superhero status.
After I brought my son’s costume home, the interesting part is that my son tried it on and then complained about the muscles. He asked me to physically remove them. Granted, he probably just found the really bad sewing job uncomfortable, but it made me happy that he wasn’t willing to wear this ridiculously flawed representation of what a boy’s chest and abdominal muscles should look like at age four, even if he is supposed to be a superhero.
To the costume designers of my son’s Halloween costume, I say this: You have the power to help shape the body image of thousands of young boys. You have the power to change views of masculinity, which are ever-so-subtly ingrained in our culture, with each increased set of stuffed pectorals in your costumes. You hold a lot of power in your hands. You must remember that with great power comes great responsibility.
Photo credit: Getty Images