Monday, May 16, 2011
At my out-of-town hotel this weekend, I witnessed the arrival of high school prom attendees disembarking from their chartered bus on their way into the Big Event. Fantasy princesses and would-be brides, starlets and Americon Idol hopefuls, nervous groups of girls and triumphant tottering halves of couples, these young women and their choices of formal attire shocked me. I admit, I have never attended a high school prom, so I am no expert nor particularly an admirer of the entire scene. But the feeling of sadness and concern I experienced had more to do with my thoughts about these girls’/women’s futures than with their particular bad taste in prom dresses.
Prom is meant to be a celebration of the end of high school and accomplishment, a rite-of-passage into adulthood. The picture and embodiment of prom in dress is often a too-expensive dress and accessories, agonized over for months, a teenage version of little girls’ dress-up. So many of the examples of dress I saw this Saturday night were hardly different from the garish getups my daughter donned as a pre-schooler, complete with jeweled shoes, too-bright makeup, and expectations of Prince Charming’s arrival. So what message is prom and its costume setting? Is it that girls can work hard and grow up to be fluffy princesses? Is it that spending a huge amount of money for just one night of fantasy that you can't build from is worth it? Is it that you can become a grown-up by dressing like one?
I adore ritual and pageantry, and I always love an excuse to dress up creatively. But I hate setting up girls and women with false expectations, and what I could see Saturday night was a mixture of excitement and fantasy, a ritual of one more opportunity to compete in a material way, a celebration of the celebrity culture in our world. Is that the best way to send our girls off into the world? I'm not so sure.