Pretty At Prom: The Cinderella Panic


Contrary to what the movies portray, prom is not the pinnacle of our high school careers.  It neither determines which college we go to nor who our friends are, and it does not guarantee whether you’ll dance through a life of happiness from that point forward.

Prom does, however, rank second only to graduation in being the most anticipated event of the year.

Since the start of 2010, very few students have escaped the mention of prom, either in the hallways or in the classroom.  People want to know who is going, who asked who, how they asked, and, perhaps the most prevalent question of all, what is each girl going to wear?

Sorry, ladies.  As cliché as it might be, the pandemonium of prom falls on us because, as interested as the guys might be in being there, they can’t hold a candle to the amount of stress we invest in the big event.

As a matter of fact, last year Seventeen magazine discovered that girls spent, on average, $537 for prom night. Furthermore, several public awareness websites have made a point of posting warnings and tips about not going overboard over prom.

The truth is, regardless of whether a female student has waited for prom her entire life or because one special guy’s invite has made her reconsider, she’s guaranteed to undergo what I like to think of as ‘the Cinderella panic.’

Simply put, the Cinderella panic is when the conversation among a cluster of high school girls inevitably drifts toward a discussion of what to wear to prom.  It is when you can’t walk through the hallways or a row of desks without hearing someone mention the price, color, or design of what she deems the perfect prom dress.

Even the walls have joined the buzz.

In fact, for weeks before spring break, almost every teacher’s door and hallway displayed flyers about Meredith College’s annual Cinderella Project, which donates secondhand formal wear to girls who cannot purchase a new dress for prom.

Clearly believing the importance of each dress, the Meredith fashion students make sure that every girl in need finds the right prom dress and they even stick around to dispense advice about which outfit works best with certain body types.

Moreover, after spring break, another set of flyers popped up, regarding a similar program called Dresses for Dreams, which offered the same deal as the Cinderella Project—free dresses!—for those girls who tend to take their time for those pesky once-in-a-lifetime events.

After all, that is what the underlying allure of prom is – it’s one of those nights that we experience only once in our lives.  Yet, while that may be true, that does not meant that it is one the most significant events of our lives.

At times I wonder if the real reason behind the Cinderella Project is that many girls have trouble distinguishing the difference.

The truth of the matter is that while the Cinderella Project and Dress for Dreams might be the only noteworthy contributions associated with prom, the logic behind them is somewhat flawed.

Case in point: We have the Cinderella Project, a group of fashion students who want to give back by collecting prom dresses for girls in need.  Now while that may seem admirable, the fact of the matter is that for someone less fortunate, a one-time dress barely touches the surface of what they need.

Furthermore, contributing to the confusion is Dresses for Dreams, a program whose very name encourages the misguided belief that the prom is a momentous occasion.

Frankly, there must be thousands of girls in the United States alone who dream of having a dress for far more significant reasons than a school dance. Reasons like have never seen or worn a dress before, reasons like simply having nothing else to wear when summer rolls back around.

That’s not to say that victims of the Cinderella Panic don’t deserve to enjoy the prom night experience, when in fact, they do.

They deserve the night for surviving high school for this long and they deserve to be pretty at prom because they’ve devoted so much of themselves to making sure that happens.

But it must be said that these girls tend to devote too much of themselves.

At some point, people have to acknowledge that there is an imbalance when someone spends months obsessing over one day that only lasts for a couple of hours.  Because when the night is over, the only left is the realization that prom is either the last dance of the year or, for our seniors, prom is the last dance of their high school lives.

And if anything, that’s the real reason to panic.  Not because prom is the last dance but because, when you waste those months in panicked preparation, you lose time that would have better been spent preparing yourself for saying goodbye.


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