Enough About Prom

September 15, 2014

Several weeks ago, I was poised to rant about what I believe to be a disproportionate emphasis currently placed upon the ritual known in the United States as Prom. I got distracted, for two very good reasons, which I’ll explain later, but after catching a few minutes of Katie Couric’s talk show this afternoon, my ire was re-ignited. Here we go:

Let’s talk about Prom—what it should be, what it shouldn’t be. Prom SHOULD be a nice opportunity to celebrate with one’s classmates the end of the academic year and, for seniors, the end of their high school career. The dress code is traditionally formal, as befitting such an occasion. It’s a chance to share memories as well as plans for the future, and it’s a time to begin the process of saying goodbye. Prom is a lovely custom, a charming ritual, a time-honored rite of passage.

That’s what Prom SHOULD be. Here’s what it SHOULDN’T:

It shouldn’t be about spending upwards of $1,000 (dress, tux, flowers, limo, tickets) – the average amount estimated by the “Seventeen” magazine editor guesting on Katie’s show today. A lot of families don’t have that kind of money, and being able to share a special moment with your friends shouldn’t be contingent upon your economic status.

It SHOULDN’T be the high-school equivalent of a wedding. I’m thinking specifically about the disturbing “prom-posal” trend in which teens spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to one-up each other when they should be studying for algebra, attending soccer practice, or performing in the spring musical. It’s Prom, not marriage, and an invitation to attend a dance—even one where girls wear long dresses and boys wear ill-fitting tuxes—should be a fairly straightforward affair. There’s plenty of time later for grand romantic gestures, and such gestures should be reserved for a sufficiently significant event—like, say, asking another person to spend the next fifty years of their life with you.

And it REALLY SHOULDN’T be, as Katie’s “Seventeen” magazine editor suggested, “the teenage girl’s red-carpet moment.”

You might say that, at the ripe old age of fifty, I’m getting old and crotchety, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be young, and maybe that’s true. But I guess I just don’t think that teenagers (or their families) should be pressured to spend an excessive amount of money on one night. I think a teenager (or the family of a teenager) who has $1,000 to spend on Prom would be far better served using that money to pay next semester’s tuition. I don’t think that teenagers should be encouraged to play at getting engaged when most of them can’t be counted on to reliably take out the trash or empty the dishwasher without being nagged almost to death. And I REALLY don’t think that teenage girls should be urged to spend more than about two hours fixating on the perfect prom dress when they should be focused upon getting an education, setting goals for their future, and beginning to think about how they’re going to change the world.

There’s a lot of money to be made on Prom – the magazine editors, the fashion industry, the limo companies, and the florists, figured that out a while back, just as they figured out how to market the idea of the “fairy tale wedding” to such an extent that today’s nuptials are likely to be bloated, overpriced affairs that sorely tax the finances of the couple or their parents in pursuit of that “one perfect day.” The massive impact of shows like “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Platinum Weddings” have paved the way and trickled down to high school, and just as there are now magazines devoted to Prom, I doubt it will be long before TLC premieres “Promzillas.” It’s a trend that perpetuates the notion that all a woman should want is to wear a pretty dress and be the princess at a party where the only thing she has to do is look good, and the only thing her date has to do is show up.

As I said earlier, my rant on the current state of Prom in the United States was interrupted, for two reasons: First, my daughter, Allison (who is autistic, and who has worked harder than any student I know to earn her high school diploma, at the age of twenty, thanks to the tremendous help and support of our school district’s special education services) was accepted into a very competitive, highly-regarded job skills program for next year. The application process was very challenging for Allison, and it took a lot of courage for her to take what was, for her, the huge risk of striving towards a goal, with the very real possibility that she might fail.

And then my husband and I went on a second honeymoon to celebrate 25 years of marriage, which, teenagers, is no small feat, even when you’re married to a smart, funny, hard-working guy who’s a great dad and who can really rock a pair of Levi’s.

So, my Prom Rant had to wait while our family celebrated (1) the achievement of a brave young woman who’s had to work harder than most to achieve a fraction of what her peers assume as a given; and (2) two people managing to stay together while negotiating mortgages, diapers, orthodontia, and flatulent canines. Those are things worth making a fuss over…and so is Prom, sort of. It’s just not worth going bankrupt, forcing teens to simulate something they aren’t (and shouldn’t be) ready for, or perpetuating the notion that the most a woman can or should aspire to is having a boy ask her to go to a dance or looking pretty.

My daughter, Allison, will attend her Prom this Friday, with a group of five friends, and yes, she’ll have an updo and will be wearing a pair of fabulous shoes. Her older sister is taking her for a mani/pedi later this week, and a dear friend will be hosting a pre-Prom photo session at her home. It’s a big deal for Allison, and for our family, but it’s not the only thing, or the most important thing, or the moment that will define her for the rest of her life. It’s a time to look back on what she’s accomplished, and to dream about what lies ahead, and, yeah, to wear a pretty dress. But that’s it.

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