Media Hypefest: Is Prom the New Wedding? A Teen’s Perspective

May 7, 2010 As the last vestiges of prom wind down along with Girls Rights Week, I wanted to land one last post in the queue exploring media and marketing’s impact on kids’ expectations, reality show distortions, and ‘over the top’ depictions of celebratory fetes.

From ‘proma-a drama,’ lavish limos and  fantasy night fairytales (e.g. akin to the amped up MTV My Super Sweet 16 bday social norming) to the “blind-date- meets-rent-a-kid” digital mashup of internet social networking offerings like “PromDateDepo” and Facebook prom groups to dodge duplications of dancing divas (yep, you can post your dress in ‘I had it first’ mode) I want to take a quick peek at what’s changed in ‘then & now’ snapshots of growing up today, from a teen’s perspective.

Senior in high school, Lilly wrote this piece (after the jump) way back during homecoming season, with a peek at how ‘prom culture’ can devalue girls (her premise played out similarly in my home albeit with a happy ending;  a pack of girls went together, but not before much hemming and hawing of ‘not wanting to go without a date’)…

I was actually ‘saving it’ to offer perspective for winter formal season (which was axed due to extracurricular high school budget cuts) and then thought I’d run it this spring for prom, since so many stories had surfaced about moving beyond ‘mean girl’ stereotypes and how to conquer  ‘proma.’ Now, as  As we wrap up “girls rights week” AND prom season, it seems Lilly’s post is a solid reminder “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Alas, as schools segue to the next ‘big deal’ whether it’s year-end parties, grad night hoopla or primary grades kicking off summer fun with celebratory field trips (hmn, schools can’t afford textbooks, but parents are tapped for field-trips to water slide parks?) it seems like a good time to recap the regalia and get grounded in perspective by tuning into your own channel.

It’s a ‘girls right’ to feel comfortable in her own skin and her own school.

So with Lilly’s post in mind, I’ll keep fingers crossed that more girls respond as they have in the various prom commentaries, sharing their own experiences in turning the tide.

No one has to always play the cards they’re dealt. Shuffle the deck, redeal the game, and fergawdsakes, create a fresh destiny as a ‘self-rescuing princess’ sans the ‘wait for the date’ prince charming bit…otherwise you could spend the ‘Twilight’ of your high school years “Through the Looking Glass” (yep, two wildly popular media-focused prom themes for 2010, as you can imagine)

Sometimes I feel I’ve ‘fallen down the rabbit hole’ myself…hearing about some of the new ‘reality show’ one-upmanship antics of how people are being ‘asked to prom on YouTube’ or guys painting their chests for a hallway ambush, or their cars for a washable billaboard of devotion…Sheesh.

What happens if she says no? Now THAT is a drama deal in the making of ‘life’s most embarrassing moments.’

Media and marketing have upped the ante and changed the game in good ways too…planning committees can tap a bevy of resources like Project Green Prom for eco-friendly themes, haves and have-nots have a more level playing field with entities like The Princess Project, and problem solving takes a pragmatic turn when teens lay claim to a specific dress sans duplication with first-come, first-served civility…

On the other hand, with “prom strategies that make the invasion of Iraq look like child’s play,” as Jane of ‘The Dame Domain’ wrote about her son being a prom pawn on the chessboard of life, I vacillate between side-splitting hyperbole and gut-wrenching terror that those mean girl stereotypes/body-snarking myths are perpetuated. (or worse yet, true)

Ultimately, I think the whole ‘proms are the new wedding’ premise holds true, regardless of varying levels of nuance, acceptability and social norming cues by region, public and private sector schools, unisex and co-ed etc.

Girls have the right…to feel good about their prom, peers, pals, and self-permissions..And with that, here’s Lilly to tell you about HER world.

promAlways Dateless, Never the Prom Queen: How Prom Culture Devalues Girls by Lilly, 17, High School Senior

You know that saying, “Pink is the new black?” I’ve got a new one for you: Prom is the new wedding. Let me explain. There’s a dress. There are flowers. There’s a bad DJ. The list of similarities goes on and on. And there are couples. Lots and lots of couples.

I go to a school where it is perfectly acceptable for same sex couples to attend prom. LGBTQ teenagers have successfully challenged the heteronormative nature of proms. That said, prom continues to be a celebration of couples. So don’t let the guys in drag fool you, my school has not evolved beyond viewing girls who go to prom without dates as sad and pathetic. I may be head of the Young Women’s Leadership club at my school, but I’m also familiar with the unwritten rules of my school’s social culture. Subsequently, the thought of going to prom without a date terrifies me.

Maybe the “p” in “prom” stands for paranoia. My female peers and I felt that if we went to prom without a date other people would assume there must be a reason we were alone. In other words, a girl without a date is seen, and may see herself as, someone who is so clearly undesirable and unlovable that she is forced to pose for pictures with Mom and Dad.

Girls who go to prom with platonic male friends are only partially off the hook. Because it isn’t enough to have a date to prom; you have to be asked to prom in an extravagant manner. Each “proposal” was topped by the next. The weeks leading up to prom were a minefield for those of us who were not going to get asked. Stairwells were transformed by gigantic banners and classes were converted into stages for poets and bearers of flowers.

Even tests, a sacred thing at a prep school, weren’t safe from the frenzy. The high point (or low point – depends who you ask) of the insanity came when a girl received a history test with a multiple choice option reading d) Go to prom with Robbie. Suddenly teachers were involved in the matchmaking. You no longer had to only worry about being judged on academic merit. Teachers knew exactly who was, and more importantly, wasn’t asked to prom.

Teachers are humans too (I’m like 90 percent sure) and it is hard to believe that knowing Jane is going to prom with John will not affect how the teacher thinks of Jane. Just as a teacher wouldn’t want his students to weigh in on his love life, students don’t want teachers facilitating their prom proposals. The entire community was involved and invested in “The Bachelor: Prom Edition.” And just like on “The Bachelor,” girls were passive participants. The few girls who had the courage to ask a guy to prom faced wrinkled noses and confusion.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against dating or going to prom with a date. But when girls are told that our worthiness and attractiveness can only be proven to our community by a date, we all lose.

When a girl is made to feel less valuable because of all the banners that are not addressed to her, she and her community forget all the substantive reasons she is amazing. Prom season intensifies the culture of expectations that teaches girls that an eager audience of peers, teachers and acquaintances are waiting to see if a guy will choose her.

Prom shouldn’t be like Noah’s ark. Most of the animals may board the ark two by two, and that’s fine. But the dateless should not be left behind swimming.

—by Lilly, age 17, senior in High School–published with permissions from Rachel Simmons’ site

In many ways, buying into the fantasy (weddings, proms, debutante balls, batmitzvahs, graduation parties, name your ‘coming of age’ occasion du’ jour) has always ‘been a big deal’…it’s just become a more commercialized one with today’s mind-numbingly desensitized definitions of what’s ‘over the top’ in media and marketing these days.

To stay grounded and true, here’s a great Girls Bill of Rights video recap from Kelsie Morales, featuring “6 girls, 6 rights” on her GirlPower studio show.

Watch it before your next big soiree, to ink your own rules, write your own script, and play your own soundtrack…How about maybe Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” song from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?

Now there’s a prom theme for ya! Works for graduation, too…

Sing it with me, ladies! 😉

…”I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can’t live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you can not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten…”

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