By Maya Brown
It was that time of year again: I slowly awoke on a bright Sunday morning a couple weeks ago, lurched out of bed, and grabbed my laptop. Quickly navigating to Facebook, I immediately found what I was looking for: the pages and pages of prom photos from the night before. Later in the day, during a coffee run with my friends, prom was all we could talk about. We assessed dresses, picked our favorites, compared dates, and analyzed who looked better in what outfit with what hairdo and what kind of makeup. We spent more than two hours in this comparison fest, grabbing our phones to get pictures of the dresses, finding out who got ready with who, who had the same dress, and whose dress made them look old or fat or like a bunch of sequins threw up on them.
It wasn’t until later that day that the full ridiculousness behind what we were doing hit me. Now, looking back, I’m almost ashamed of how critically we all looked at the girls we respected and loved. We were taking these girls that we knew and comparing them to each other and analyzing their appearances as if they were celebrities in a magazine — and I don’t even like when celebrities get critiqued like that.
Where did this incessant need to judge girls’ appearances and pit them against each other come from? In all other ways, my friends are usually pretty cool, and I try to be as non-judgey as possible myself, so why were we doing this?
The answer of course, is the whole prom culture. As a junior in high school, this was the first year that some of my friends had been asked to prom, and therefore the first time my friends and I took a real interest in the prom scene. And let me tell you, the prom scene can get messy. Our society tells us that prom is supposed to be magical, and we have to be asked by prince charming and have a perfect dress and look perfect and spend tons of money on everything and look amazing. There are a lot of different things wrong with prom, but the biggest issues come right back to appearance and sexualization.
Girls are taught that looking sexy and attractive is all the matters, and prom is no exception. We expect every girl to go all out for prom, and even if we didn’t go ourselves, we feel like we have earned the right to judge those who did based on how they looked. In reality, we have no authority to critique everyone’s dresses and compare them to each other; we’re not even their friends. We don’t have any say in their lives.
But this is the authority that the media tries to give us: objectifying women is something anyone is allowed to do, therefore the appearance of girls at prom is subject of discussion. Even worse, we’re allowed to turn prom from what it should be — a night of dancing and fun with friends — to what it shouldn’t be: a night for girls to stress out and prep endlessly for. And because they went and wore a dress, we can judge that dress and how well they wore it.
But this is wrong. Women shouldn’t be constantly compared to each other. They should be able to go to their senior prom and enjoy themselves without worrying about the opinions of ten junior girls creeping on pictures on Facebook. But it’s more than that; girls shouldn’t have to worry about society judging them for how well they fit the idealized standards of beauty. Girls deserve to be comfortable in their own skin, and the best way to do this is for each of us to make an effort to judge less and focus on more than a women’s appearance.
I know next year I’ll try to stop myself from analyzing every aspect of other girls’ dresses and hairstyles and makeup, because there are way more important things for me to do. I’m holding myself accountable because if I can’t do it, how can I expect anyone else to?