Prom: Evolving Past Overstated Expectations

A look at the pressure and expectation behind the big night

Katie Songey, Business Manager

In high school, prom is commonly seen as a stepping stone on the path to graduation.  The media portrays the dance as a huge gateway to a new life of popularity and freedom in the years to come.  Rarely is the pressure that accompanies the big night reflected or addressed.  Although this rite of passage can be stressful and dramatically overstated, prom does not have to be a burden.

“Prom is a part of the high school experience,” said Aubree Thomas, junior. “It is a fun time to hang out with friends and gives you a good excuse to dress up, and if you go with people who know how to have a good time, there is no stress or drama.”

Between the price of a ticket and the purchases for the big night, prom can get expensive extremely fast.  In turn, the dance can quickly separate the haves and the have-nots.  A recent study averaged the total cost to add up to about $1,100 after attire, transportation and evening festivities are covered.  Many families who have trouble putting food on the table and providing a roof over their children’s heads do not have the available funds to finance such an experience as the high school prom.

“Prom is not about spending a ton of money.  Sometimes it is even more fun to cook dinner at friend’s houses and do each other’s makeup and hair than to go out formally,” said Thomas.

Although the high expense is a significant burden, there are plenty of alternatives to lower the cost.  For example, formal attire can always be found at thrift shops and second-hand boutiques for half the price.  In fact, many bridesmaids who know that they will never wear their dresses again decide to sell or donate their dresses to second-hand stores.  The benefit is that they are providing a more affordable opportunity for girls who are looking for a wide range of dresses.

“There are a lot of cute dresses for reasonable prices if you know where and when to look.  Searching the sale racks and using coupons is a great way to get a beautiful dress for a fraction of the original price. Also, buying a dress before prom season starts can be a great deal for a gorgeous dresses,” said Emma Edwardson, junior.

Additionally, the peer pressure preceding prom is sure to overwhelm some students.  First, the common expectation of attending prom with a date might be enough to turn away certain students.  For some, the lack of a prom date is something that brings shame and humiliation.  For others, their preferred date is not approved of by their peers.

Nevertheless, it is the 21st century and sometimes old traditions need to be pushed aside to fit the growing culture of our changing society.  Social norms have changed.  Now, attending prom with a group of friends instead of a group of couples is becoming a more sought after approach.

“You should be able to enjoy yourself with friends without having to attend with a date.  Prom is an opportunity to hang out with people you have fun with.  You go for yourself and your friends, not to gain popularity or because it is seen as a social requirement,” said Edwardson.

Moreover, the need to post and publicize every detail that goes into the preparation of prom encourages girls to measure themselves against others to gain popularity and approval.  The steady stream of photos broadcast the most favored hairstyles, nails, dresses, shoes, makeup, prom dates, corsages and boutonnieres, prom pictures and party plans.  The barrage of comments and “likes” that accompany the photo posts can even escalate to influence an individual’s preference in order to gain approval from the majority.

“The online photo albums are anxiously monitored as barometers of popularity, telling girls who is “in” and “out,” as many girls learn to equate their worth with the number of “likes” each photo receives,” said Rachel Simmons, CNN writer.

The pressure of negative influences is also a common scene at the big dance.  Because of the large number of parties that are hosted to celebrate prom, the likelihood of underage drinking due to peer pressure is increased.  According to a survey conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving who partnered with Chrysler, 74% of the polled teens reported that they felt pressured to drink, and 49% of the surveyed teens felt pressured to engage in the use of drugs.

“I plan to surround myself with good influences and to go with my friends and people whom I trust.  They will not yield to peer pressure or encourage me to do things I am not comfortable with,” said Edwardson. “We will have enough fun together without the extra influences.”