Listen Up: Prom Night Is Not Perfect

Prom: one of the oldest traditions in high school, where, for one night, high school students get to dress up like they’re going to a Hollywood runway and commemorate the end of the year with their peers.

The preparations, however, span over much more than just one day. The amount of planning and organizing for the one night could start as early as January just for a spring/summer celebration. With buying dresses or renting tuxes, scheduling nail and hair appointments, executing outrageous ‘promposals’ and arranging after-prom plans, a massive amount of thought is poured into an event that lasts a mere three to four hours.

And here is an opinion that is not universally shared nor acknowledged: prom night is not worth it.

Essentially, the idea of prom is a product of cultural “hype.” It acts as a rite of passage for seniors (and sometimes juniors), depicted by many as the ‘best night of your high school career,’ seen by pieces of pop culture such as Prom (2011), Carrie (1976), Prom Night (1980/2008), Pretty in Pink (1986), Never Been Kissed (1999) and many TV shows that feature the night with a turning point in the characters’ plots.

The truth: it’s not what everyone makes it out to be. Sure, it’s not an awful event, but it’s just as good as any high school dance could be.

The reality of the matter is that, for most, it creates more worries and anxiety than fun and enjoyment. Being a person who struggles with severe anxiety, nearly every aspect evokes pure fear. The idea that you have to be asked by a male, the pressure of not getting a date equivocating to not being loved or good enough, the concern of getting the perfect dress, or not getting the same dress as someone: it’s all a lot for a three-hour high school dance that almost always disappoints.

Yet, the night’s tendency to be overrated is not the only contributing factor to its problems.

In a survey conducted by Visa in 2015, it was found that “the average U.S. family plans to spend about $919 on a prom-going teen.” This isn’t a far-fetched idea: you need to purchase a dress/tux, corsage and boutonniere (or a bouquet of flowers, if your school does that), shoes, tickets, transportation, hair, nails, makeup and more. Obviously, all of these purchases are not necessarily cheap.

So what about those who can’t afford all of it? Why is one of the biggest events for high school students so monetarily exclusive? This only adds a greater social pressure to those who are not economically flexible.

Additionally, prom is typically painfully heteronormative.

What is heteronormativity? Edwin Lemert, a sociologist from University of California, describes it as, “the cultural norm whereby heterosexual practices are considered not just ‘normal’ but essential to the moral health of society,” including sexuality and gender identity.

So how does social idea this apply to prom? Many (though not at all, especially in recent times) schools sell tickets in pairs for couples, defined as a boy and a girl who are dating or have decided to go as friends, implying that the only form of a couple consist of a female and a male and neglect other forms of pairings. At the event itself, you’re expected to vote for a prom king and a prom queen (for what purpose, no one is really sure) in a popularity contest for your favorite straight couple. For many LGBT+ students, it can be considered uncomfortable to bring a date of the same sex. And since the attire is so “highly gendered,” many feel pressures to squeeze themselves into the mold of the prom look: strictly suits or dresses. Some schools even enforce this.

“I believe the big fights for equality around LGBTQ issues, such as hate violence, homelessness and economic fairness, can’t be won unless we fight the smaller ones along the way: the ones that parents tell you to shrug off and school administrators tell you to live with, including that homecoming courts contain kings and queens, and prom dress codes must involve either dresses or suits. There is so much change to work for,” said Ara Halstead, a gender-fluid teenager, in the New York Times.

And that’s really what we need: change. I’m not trying to be the epitome of anti-prom — in fact, I’m all for a fun and enjoyable dance and I do not mean to discourage prom at all. But, in all candidness, there are things that should be changed in order to make it a happy and inclusive time for everyone.

Photo: Heather Miller

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