Barbie, Queen of the Prom

An article about over-provocative high school prom dresses in last week’s Wall Street Journal got me reminiscing. Not about my own prom or my children’s; proms are not a part of observant Jewish life. Instead, my memories are of a board game I played as a girl – Barbie, Queen of the Prom. The object of the game was to be the first player to collect everything your Barbie needed for the prom. My memory is a bit fuzzy on exactly what was required, though I do know a date and dress were two essentials. Four people could play and there was quite a bit of competition to get the best boy (Ken, of course – some poor white-haired lad named Poindexter was always last picked) and prettiest dress.

As a child playing the game with my friends, Barbie seemed very mature and sophisticated.  Surely, by the time you went to your high school prom, you were grown up! And indeed, when high school proms began to be popular in the 1930’s and1940’s, eighteen year old students were usually mature and responsible. High school prom was often engagement night, especially for young women. The earliest proms were akin to a debutante ball for those not in the upper social echelon; a way for middle-class families to mimic the debutante balls which introduced upper-class daughters to society as women of marriageable age. I may be confusing this with Victorian England, (I have a severely restricted research budget for this Musing) but in the college proms of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s men might have even worn gloves so as not to touch the skin of the young ladies.  Those same young men by age eighteen were already, or on the threshold of being, financially responsible for themselves.   So at a time when these formal dances were strictly structured and meant as an acknowledgment of one’s grown up status, the participants truly were standing at the entry to adult society.

That is quite different from what goes on today. Certainly, renting hotel rooms after the dance was over was not a feature of much earlier eras.  Nor was the expectation that marriage might be a decade, or more, in the future. Today, we take nubile girls and testosterone poisoned boys nowhere near emotional maturity and place them in a romantic milieu, after having immersed them with an education which insists that there is no absolute morality. To me the Journal article highlighting how some schools monitor dresses, even providing pictures showing what skin may be shown and what skin must be covered, seemed quaint. Certainly one can understand the desire of administrators to keep the evening from looking like auditions for Amsterdam’s red light district. But is a dress code anything more than providing a box of Band-Aids to victims of a horrific crash?

As I said, I have no emotional connection to prom. Perhaps I am viewing it through cynical and jaundiced eyes. Does the evening have a value which escapes me? I’d be curious to hear another view from those who still see high school proms as not just an exciting evening (tornadoes can be exciting as well), but also as a beneficial and constructive experience in their children’s lives.




3 thoughts on “Barbie, Queen of the Prom”

  1. USMissionarynPH

    Emotionally attached to prom or not, you are correct. The focus has completely shifted and the expectations are very altered. I graduated from high school in 1986. After dance parties were usually at my house. Upon arriving, you called home to tell your parents your location and Mom confiscated car keys. Although drinking and drugs were not allowed, she’d accept the drunk and doped into the house. She fed us and we entertained ourselves with movies, early morning football games, conversation, etc. Couples were not allowed into separate rooms and she insisted we moderated each other. NO ONE left until after sunrise the following morning when Mom returned car keys to the respective owner. Mom was tough!
    Sadly, prom night was one of two “death nights” for us in the small town I grew up. The following morning was met with excitement and trepidation. We were able to catch up on the news from the night before – engagements, break ups, hotel evaluations, police reports, car accidents, overdoses, hospitalizations, funeral plans.
    It makes me sad to remember the ones that said, “I wish I’d gone to your house instead of ____.” The end results were not always physically fatal, but they did leave scars. I have often wondered how many of us lived because Mom was tough. Thank you, Father! Good job, Mom.
    In May 2012, it will be twenty-six years since high school graduation. The physical laws and the scriptures tell us decline is a natural progression. A creative work of the Living God is needed for a different outcome. Where are we today?
    P.S. The second “death night” of the year was graduation night. Although the deaths occurred throughout the grades, the final count was a blow. The Class of 1986 in that small town had the dubious honor of the highest death rate in the school district history.

  2. Speaking from the perspective of my high school prom of 43 years ago, It was the first time I’d ever taken a girl out in a formalized setting. The “sock hops” of my day were an informal milieu of boys & girls churning around, some dancing, some grouped together by sex and laughing and giggling, with others, the “loners” — of which I was always one – wandering around from one group to another and always too afraid to ask a girl to dance.
    But the prom was another issue. I formally asked a girl, and I was responsible for picking her up at her home, meeting her parents, taking pictures,, then engaging in conversation all night and (gasp!) actually dancing with her. It helped teach us how to act and react in a formal setting with the opposite gender, so in that sense I think that it served a useful purpose.
    However, the proms of today have become grossly elaborate affairs, with girls spending at much on their dresses as brides spend on wedding gowns, the rental of limosines, and the rental of hotel rooms for the after-dance “party” has gone way overboard. Our afterdance party came the next day in the form of a picnic, where we then interacted in a more relaxed setting, perhaps tossing around a “Frisbee” or going on walks, while eating sandwiches, chicken, potatoe salad and the like.
    There were probably other couples who did “more”, but for most of us it was an opportunity to learn proper etiquette and conduct with the opposite sex. But today it’s become an opportunity for overindulgence and expectations for far too much. Like many activities of the past, proms have morphed into something far removed for the original intent.
    Much like what’s happened with so much of the Bible traditions and interpretations, as with interpretations of of US Constitution. It’s a sad sign of the times. However, we are told to be “salt and light”. If change is to occur, it must come from those of us who care.
    So if you are involved with proms, do what you can to make sure it remains within the bounds of the original intent. And if you are of a political bent, find the politicians who are biblically-oriented and work for that person (or become that person yourself).

  3. The one thing I’ll say in favor of proms, at least the ones in our suburban town, is that it shows that parents and school administrators have a model of dating. Parents vied to be chaperones for the proms, and yes, dress codes were enforced. The boys were expected to creatively and sweetly invite their dates, provide a corsage and pose for photos when they picked up the girls. The prom was held in the school gym, no alcohol allowed of course, and students lined up for thier formal photos on a backdrop framed by balloons. Quaint, yes, but a valid and useful expression of the way adults prefer their children date and behave. The girls loved “dressing up” in formalwear they’d otherwise have no reason to buy, and the continuation of such events provides a link and bond between generations.

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