Taking It Too Far: Back Off the Girls in Prom Dresses

4 years ago

Last weekend, my best friend and I sat blissfully on a restaurant patio in seventy-degree springtime hoping a waiter or waitress might bring us drinks. While we waited, a group of high school kids dressed for prom started to make their way into the restaurant through the revolving door. One girl got her full princess dress stuck in the door, and my friend and I started talking about how much that must suck, hopefully it didn't leave a mark, how embarrassing, la la la. Then we heard the loud and inebriated ladies to our left commenting on the girls themselves after the kids had barely cleared earshot.

Credit Image: Salt of the Earth on Flickr

It didn't take long before two more tables joined in: one table with two middle-aged women and one table with a thirty-something couple. After every girl would walk past and attempt the revolving door, the six of them would rate her outfit, her spray tan, her shoes and whether or not her parents should be ashamed of her. Loudly.

Now listen, I like to make fun of prom dresses just as much as the next person, but it's one thing to make fun of dresses in a photo shoot and another thing entirely to make fun of a teenager wearing the dress right in front of you. I found myself growing more and more angry. Finally, I asked my friend (since said waitstaff never appeared) if we could please go somewhere else before I totally popped off. As we walked away, I realized what I was most angry about was the six adults who were viciously tearing apart kids loudly in a public place were almost all women, and they didn't say anything about the boys other than some of them were wearing white tuxedos. Nothing about the cut of the tuxedos or the boys' hair or their shoes or whether or not they probably had sex. Nothing. Only the girls.

Not the dresses, necessarily, but the girls in the dresses. It was so totally personal. I was really worried the girls might overhear, but maybe they have a shield against drunk adults.

This doesn't always happen, of course. Last weekend is the first time I'd heard adults so loudly commenting on girls' personal appearance in a public space. I remember when my daughter was young, she'd ask me to walk her over to girls in prom dresses because she wanted to meet real princesses. Every time I obliged her and did so, the girls would smile like my daughter had just made their life and graciously shake her hand. I don't remember hearing people anticipate them becoming the next Teen Mom as they walked away.

Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe they were strangers egging each other on. It didn't appear as though the three groups knew each other before that evening. Maybe it's our celebrity culture that's made us feel so comfortable treating every single person as though they are on a stage to be critiqued. Public behavior has changed, and some kids behave in a way that encourages a rating system. The day after the prom night debacle, my husband and I took my daughter to a museum and watched a teenager pose six different ways including Sexy Duck Face as her friend snapped away pictures on her iPhone and post them to Instagram, I'm assuming to gather "likes." I was so taken aback that neither girl seemed even remotely embarrassed that I was clearly watching them do what my friends and I used to do only alone and only in the bathroom mirror. I carried that thought around with me the rest of the day, and it kept banging up against the drunk adults rating the girls in prom dresses in my mind. When did we decide everything should be publicly judged?

It's really important to remember (and I say this also to myself) that people are people and not everyone who goes out for dinner wants to be photographed or critiqued. Some people already like themselves and don't need or want our collective opinion. Not everyone is out there taking a selfie. Some people are just living their lives. We need to mind our own business more often and both have and let other keep a little dignity.

What do you think?

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of BlogHer.com. Find more at www.ritaarens.com.

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