You’ll remember from my article about Dawson’s Creek, that I understand the importance of defining moments in a person’s life and that I really do cherish them, even if they are fleeting and not as important in hindsight. You’ll remember also that I believe that everything in your adolescence is a big deal, all the time and that we should totally own that feeling when we are young. In fact, we should hold on to that feeling of self-importance, because, well, we are important and life is short. But, how much monetary value should we put on one night, albeit the social event that it seemed was the culmination of all of our years at high school: prom.
Another thing that you need to know about me is that I have a guilty secret. It’s shameful really…
…I adore teen shows such as My Super Sweet Sixteen. It’s proper car-crash telly; you can’t look away, you kinda don’t want to and it’s dangerous. It makes you both covetous and disgusted all at once. But you love it and, inevitably, start to imagine what your super sweet sixteen would have looked like. At the time, mine would have been a chunderous pink and black affair, channelling Avril Lavigne and Evanescence, I think.
Prom: every teen’s rite of passage. As a teacher, teaching anyone from year 10 onwards is, pretty much, impossible, due to the gossip which surrounds the night. Year 10s that I know have bought their dresses already or are saving up ridiculous amounts to get the dress. It’s almost a scary glimpse into the future when perhaps they will be doing the same for the actual the dress, for their wedding. It’s sad to see these kids being so bridal. It’s sadder to see them stress that they look too fat or that they don’t have a date, or that they won’t get invited to an after-party. It’s abhorrent to overhear them dissecting the Year 11s’ outfits, hair, tans, cellulite, car, eating habits, boyfriend, girlfriend, muscles, parents. There are all kinds of pressures put on these kids to have a ‘good time’, to compete to be the belle of the ball or the charming prince, to get drunk, to lower their standards, to be seen, to be ‘esteemed.’
What about the fiscal side of things then? Cash is a massive part of the burden that is Prom for a lot of teenagers, and their guardians. I remember, to my shame, bullying my mother to spend money on a dress which I have never worn since, to chip in on the tackiest white limo that you ever did see. And I knew it would all mean nothing…but I had to have it. It was vital. It was life or death. It was my last chance to fit in and show those popular kids that I was cool like. I wanted to be ‘sick’. And in a way, I was.
So, according to one of my previous year 11s, a usually level-headed and studious girl, the price is £500. That includes the dress, the heels, the tan, the hair, the nails…the pumpkin coach and fairy godmother (I would hope, at that price). 500. Wow. Of course, not every values the experience. Every year, there are the dissenters, the rebels, the free-thinkers which choose not to subscribe to the circus. But, alarmingly, there is still a large number of young adults which value one night far too highly.
What have we done, to let our children get to this? What can we do to change this perception that teenagers have or themselves and what is expected of them? Well, unlike me, these children are not fully developed yet and they have not had the chance to work out that this is bull. All of it. The media, the hype, the TV shows which perpetuate the importance of these nights, that build up stress and worry and negative self-image, that encourages rivalry and anxiety and only cares about money, not lives. The whole industry sucks, and perhaps it is up to schools, parents and of course, the media to work on sending out positive messages and role models for our youth before we start cultivating a generation of either self-obsessed or self-loathing adults to send out into the world.
I’d love to see a ‘pyjama prom’ or a ‘thrift-shop chic’ dress-code, or even a school which says, £20 or under, or get out. Let’s change perceptions, and let’s shape minds. Let’s teach young people to love themselves before money and fame. And then, let’s move on to the adults!
So how much is one night worth?