As I encountered cultural differences attending an American high school, out of all things, the most shocking one was probably the party culture. Particularly, the most prominent annual event prom behind all its glamour and cuteness, there’s definitely some negativity that’s associated with it.
A documentary series Real American Beauty produced by the i-D magazine, a British magazine dedicated to fashion, art, music, and youth culture, presented an episode on the prom preparation in Long Island, NY. And it was fascinating to see how hyper-competitive mothers were so focused on creating a perfect image of their daughters. By mimicking the wedding culture, there’s too much pressure to present a perfect hair, a perfect dress, and even a perfect smile.
When did prom become a vicarious thing? Prom is supposed to be a memorable night for the girls and their friends in the documentary. It’s truly angry to see how the parental pressure, on what these girls are suppose to look like, outweighs the central goal of prom which is rooted in having a lot of fun.
When I sat down with the editors of Spectrum, we exchanged our opinions on the documentary as well as some personal struggles/difficulties we’ve faced regarding school dances. Bennett Hawley the sports editor commented that the prom experience is becoming “impersonal.” Hawley’s older sibling who attended a public school went to prom with a group of 60 people, and some people weren’t even necessarily friends with certain people, so that kind of low level of intimacy cannot feel so genuine at times.
Besides the parental pressure, C.C. Lucas the news editor and Penelope Winton the opinions editor discussed how they’ve been pressured by their friends in school dances. Winton commented that there exists a controlled system in school dances, and Lucas added that there’s threads controlling one’s night. For instance, X wanted her night to look like this, and she would feel uncomfortable if Y would join her prom group. Z dated W last year, and W is dating K now, and Z’s reluctant to be a part of K’s dinner group or something like that.
As social media really hit among teenagers and young adults, there’s also some pressure to conduct a self-promotion to prove how great we are. And it’s kind of sad that many teenagers including myself are obsessed with documenting and manufacturing the highlights at events such as prom, whereas we should just really engage in the actual party scene.
But I’m not saying that prom is bad. Like many teenage girls, I love to dress up even though dressing up feels very constructive, because to me, it’s important to have an opportunity such as fashion to magnify who I am. It’s so satisfying to see a higher volume or version of myself, and I think prom is definitely an opportunity to feel magnified.
The idea of prom can feel silly, but I’ve noticed my friend and I were really into that stuff and that’s okay, says Lucas. The corniness implied in prom often makes people to discredit the social event too. But ultimately, I think it’s important to retain the fun aspects of prom without feeling pressure to conform to an ideal image so much.