My Not So Picture Perfect Prom
As a little girl, I dreamed of when I would be in high school and would get to attend my high school prom. I always thought that it would be just like what I saw in the movies - I would be asked by the boy of my dreams, I would go to the mall with my friends to find the perfect dress, and I would spend the morning getting ready with my friends. Then my date would ring my doorbell, we’d take pictures on a grand staircase, he’d sweep me off my feet and away to prom, where we would dance the night away and take home the titles of Prom King and Queen. It would be perfect.
As my senior year of high school drew to a close, my dreams of a perfect prom quickly vanished in a puff of AP exams and college decisions. As the date of the dance drew closer, no boy came to ask me to the dance in a cute way, and my friends and I were way too busy to go dress shopping together. I agonized over who might ask me to the dance or who I could ask, and my heart sunk a little bit more each time another one of my friends secured an escort. My pool for a “girls group” was growing smaller. I was upset over the fact that no boy had asked me to the school dance, and I was confused - I had never before been upset over a boy, and had rarely given any of them the time of day in the past. So why was I so worked up about the lack of a boy now?
As the oldest of three daughters, my parents raised me to be independent, self-reliant and self-sufficient. I was taught that I could do anything I put my mind to, and would spend my weekends following my dad through the hardware store or watching sports with him and my mom. I was raised in a world without the notion of gender roles - my favorite color was blue, I preferred Legos to Polly Pockets, and when I was done cooking in my pretend kitchen I would serve as the conductor of my Thomas train set that I organized in endless track layouts. The lack of assumed gender roles in my childhood and my parents’ constant reinforcement helped me believe that I could do anything I wanted to. I had no problem taking on leadership roles for projects, and I considered it a compliment whenever someone called me bossy. Never before in my life had I needed a boy to accomplish a task. But all of a sudden, I did.
While it wasn’t required to have a date to Prom, and there were “girl groups” I could have joined, society said that I had to have one. My best friend’s mom (in her first generation American ideal) also imagined that her daughter would have a male escort (and not just me). I ended up asking a good friend and classmate by text, and his reply of “I guess we could go” secured me a date. I also asked a neighbor to go with my bestie, the four of us went together and had a great time. I got to wear my sparkly princess dress, and I drove to pick him up and drove the four of us to dinner and then the dance since I have the cleanest driving record and the cleanest car. We didn’t win Prom King or Queen, we didn’t get chauffeured around in a fancy limo and we skipped the one slow dance – but that was fine. We had a blast, but prom was far from perfect. What society said should have been the perfect end to high school ended up being a fun and memorable night – but one that was preceded by an incomprehensible amount of stress. I stressed over every detail - the fact that I had asked my friend, whether my dress was too sparkly, and if I would look good in the pictures. On the other hand, my guy friend had none of the stress, but the same amount of fun - he could care less how the pictures turned out, and how he looked in his tuxedo was the least of his concerns. If he hadn’t gone with me he might have gone with a group or just stayed home. We both had fun, but he had none of the stress that I experienced.
For me, prom was stressful because I felt as though I had to conform to society’s rules. Who I went with, how I behaved, even how I did my hair - I felt like if I didn’t do what everyone else did, I would be judged. Somehow I fell into the trap of societal pressure. I worried I might be missing out if I didn’t attend. But as the big night approached, I realized that there was no need for me to fit into that perfect prom picture that society has created. I could make my own. So I picked the sparkly princess dress rather than a form fitting gown because the tulle and the sequins made me happy. I asked my date to the dance, and even drove to pick him up. I did my own hair rather than going to a salon like many of my friends did because it allowed me to take the nap I needed so I could stay awake until 4am. I allowed my independent nature to come out rather than following examples from the movies and letting my date do it all. I chose to be myself rather than to conform to the standards dictated by society, and I made my prom what I wanted it to be.
In the end though, I was one of few girls who took her prom fate into her own hands. Most of the girls at my school wanted their senior prom to be like the movies - they Instagrammed their adorable “promposal,” spent hours hunting for the perfect dress, and began getting ready as soon as they woke up on the morning of prom. Although they wanted to have a fairytale prom, make no mistake, these young women are strong and independent. So what held them back and left them hanging onto the threads of the past and of tradition? Part of it is the persistence of set gender roles. Not everyone is as fortunate as I was to have not been raised with gender roles and stereotypes, and many grow up not dreaming of being the boss, but of being swept off their feet by Prince Charming. And while they may develop career aspirations as they grow older, many young women still hang onto their dream of the perfect prince; prom is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
For many of my peers, prom is the last chance they will have to live out their fairytale dreams. They fall victim to society’s standards in order to have the perfect night. I chose not to. I chose to do prom my own way, and I had an amazing night with my best friend and our dates. But it was hard - it can be difficult to forge your own path, and it doesn’t always feel right. But for me, being independent was the best way to have the prom of my dreams - even if it wasn’t necessarily picture perfect and Instagramable to the outside world.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Cantor, Gabrielle. "My Not So Picture Perfect Prom." 20 June 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 5, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/my-not-so-picture-perfect-prom>.