Dear Prom-Going Friend:
It’s spring formal season and I wanted to take a moment away from writing to women like your mom, and share some secrets with you from my high school days.
So much has changed since then but the lessons I’ve learned in the two decades (plus) since my own prom may help you to have a Much. Better. Time. at your own big event.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure: We didn’t really call it prom. My Christian school held “banquets” for the juniors and seniors so as to avoid dancing. By confining us to chairs and round tables for three hours, they were hopeful to keep everyone’s hormones under control. (Between you and me, it didn’t work. Some of the kids just had their own dance parties later. But don’t tell my mom, okay? She thought we watched movies.)
I have two distinct memories from that night.
The first is how much I hated my hair. I set it with hot rollers (as I always did for special occasions). But, on this night, my head full of light brown layers would not cooperate. In the early nineties, if your bangs weren’t big, you failed. Alas, mine refused to fluff. This was probably due to the high volume of nervous sweat that poured out of my forehead. Wet bangs equal flat bangs. I didn’t want to leave the house. #HairFail
Second, I remember the smell of Drakkar Noir. (It was the cologne every “cool guy” wore when I was in high school.) To “up” his personal coolness factor, my date must have used it to polish the interior of his car. It reeked. No matter what direction I turned my head in search of oxygen, I could not inhale without the cologne burning my nostrils. Trying to act relaxed (I was nervous!) without breathing proves difficult. #CologneOverkill
My high school experience was riddled with insecurity. I constantly wondered if I was pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, funny enough, “cool” enough . . . I knew that Jesus loved me and “all that stuff” but I had a hard time getting my heart to believe that my value could truly come from him. Instead, I believed it was all on me to be “enough.” The pressure was immense.
So, back to you, dear girl. You who are headed out for what may feel like the biggest night, ever. Perhaps you’ve never worn a dress that expensive or never had your hair done by a professional (Dang, I wish I had…that would have solved issue one above. I digress…). I want you to have an incredible night!
But I want you to know BEFORE and AFTER and DURING prom that you are loved like crazy, no matter what your hair did, dress did, date did (or didn’t do), that night.
Here’s what else I want you to know:
Number 1: One Dance Does not Define You.
No, I’m serious. Someday, you’ll be out of high school, and this night won’t be nearly as important to the grand scheme of your entire life as you believe it will be right now. You should have fun. You should laugh and enjoy being dressed-up and out with your friends. But, take the pressure off.
If you didn’t get a date (or didn’t get the date you wanted). If you didn’t get the dress you wanted. If your hair goes BLEH (like mine) or if your dress doesn’t fit quite like you hoped it would, don’t let it get you down. You will not be eternally defined by this one evening. You are not the “dateless girl,” the “girl in the ugly dress,” the “girl without her nails done” or whatever label the enemy is trying to get you to wear. You are crazy loved by the King of the universe who puts no expectation on you to be anything more–physically–than you already are today.
Have a BLAST, but take the pressure off. It may feel like this is the most important night of your life, but, most likely, your best nights are yet to come!
Number 2: Choose to Not Compare.
You’re going to feel great when you leave home (I hope). Your friends or date will tell you how great you look. Your mom will gush, your dad will cry behind the camera. You know you look good!
But, then something weird may happen. You’ll show up at the restaurant or maybe head straight into the big dance and see everyone else and wonder: But, do I look good enough?
Sweet friend, the enemy of our soul starts tempting us women with comparison early. By high school, you know this feeling, but you may not be ready to call it out. Tonight, I want you to. When you hear comparison’s whisper, tell it to “shut up.” (Okay, my mom never let us say “shut up” – times have changed – you can use whatever language you feel would be appropriately strong without crossing the line.)
You get to choose what voices you listen to. That stands for tonight, and that stands for every night for the rest of your life. If you tune into comparison, you will shrink into a corner, have a dull time, and over-analyze the evening for months to come. If you decide to tune out comparison’s lie, you can have a fabulous time and not worry about what anyone else thinks or how anyone else looks.
Please dear one, don’t let comparison beat you down tonight. It robs us of so much. Don’t let it steal your fun this evening. Press mute on those lies.
Number 3: Don’t Go Crazy on Spending.
In preparation for my big evening I: highlighted my hair, bought diet shakes, bought a dress (I would wear one time), bought jewelry to go with the dress I would wear one time, bought shoes, had them dyed (to go with the dress I would wear one time), bought a purse and had it dyed to go with my dress (that I would wear one time), bought some new make-up to go with my dress, and bought a boutonniere for my date. I don’t know how much all that cost in 1991, but, likely, it was a lot.
Is it worth it? Arguably yes. Buy a dress you love (but can afford), the accessories, do what you need to do to get ready. I’d just encourage you to think about your investment carefully. This is only one night. You will have buried the pictures from this night long before you start college (see number 7 below). There are likely ways that you could still look and feel beautiful for prom without spending every cent you’ve earned at your part time job.
Number 4: Not having a date, for one event, does not determine your future.
Can I share a secret with you? I had to ask a guy to take me to my banquet. He didn’t go to our school. My ex-boyfriend (who did go to my school) had a date already, as did most of the girls in my class, and so I felt pressured to either ask this guy from church to go with me, or not go.
I’m not certain I made the right decision. I spent most of the night feeling weird about the fact that I asked him–like I was a charity case for whom he was doing a favor. I knew he wasn’t into me, and yet, we were on this “special” date. It was just awkward.
Looking back, I wish I had gone alone. I may have had a better time.
But at the time, I sure felt like not having a date would be the worst thing ever. No date for prom was just asking for the caption “Destined to become the crazy cat lady” under my yearbook picture. If I couldn’t get a “man” in eleventh grade, how did I ever dare believe I’d get married, have a family . . .ever be loved by anyone?
Turns out those were just lies too.
About thirteen years after my prom I found myself preparing for another “prom like” event. This time it was the Marine Corps annual birthday ball. I had to have a dress, hair, nails, make-up, the whole she-bang (minus the boutonniere – Marines don’t do boutonnieres!). It was a wonderful time with a man who would become my husband about a year later. I still fretted about my hair (and hated the picture) but I had a magical time.
If you find yourself without a date for this one, it doesn’t mean anything except that you don’t have a date for one night. Not “the” night. Not “the rest of your life.” Just this night. You may not meet a guy you totally love until next month, next year, or next decade, but you don’t have to feel desperate. Waiting to find a man who loves Jesus and will love you well is totally worth it.
Number 5: Sometimes the guys with the best “promposals” can still act like jerks.
Maybe you have a date for prom but you are worried. You’ve heard his expectations don’t match yours. He’s really cute. He did an awesome “promposal.” Every girl at school thinks you are so lucky that he chose you. But, you feel nervous about what he expects.
Dear one, no matter how much he spent on your promposal, limo ride, dinner, or flowers, you don’t owe him anything. If he is not satisfied with the pleasure of just having you accompany him to the dance, then he somehow believes you can be bought. You can’t be.
Well, that’s not the entire truth. You see, you were bought, for a high price (yes, I mean Jesus). He paid a high price for you, laid down his life, because he felt you were worth the sacrifice.
Though you’ll never meet a man as great as Jesus here on this earth, that’s the kind of guy you want to look for–to be with forever. One who will sacrifice for you, not use you. Don’t settle for the jerk who thinks that because he bought you flowers, he can put his hands wherever he wants.
Oh, and speaking of roving hands, I need to tell you a secret I learned too late. Just because a guy wants your body, doesn’t mean he wants you. It’s kind of hard to discern. It feels really good to be wanted. But, there is a difference. It hurts a lot when you get it wrong. Looking hot sometimes draws mosquito men (read what I mean by that here).
Find a guy who values you, respects your boundaries, and who doesn’t freak out at the prospect of meeting your dad or sitting beside your little brother at a family dinner. These are the guys who stick around.
These are also the guys who don’t expect you to always look like a cover model. Which leads me to number six:
Number 6: You do not have to lose weight for prom.
Please don’t. If you were already following a long-term eating plan to become healthier, okay. But, dieting just to fit in a dress or starving yourself so you have a flat stomach for one night is unhealthy. It can set you up for disordered eating and health related problems down the road.
Yes. I crash dieted before my prom. I wanted to be as skinny as possible before I put on that dress (Which is laughable now because you can see how that dress hid everything!). This started a lifetime of bad habits for me in the arena of eating. It’s taken me twenty years to try to fix the disordered eating patterns I started at your age. I still fight to not feel like I “should” lose weight before every special occasion. I wish I had known how to combat the “I-need-to-lose-weight-to-be-more-accepted” lie when I was younger.
You want to feel great in that dress. I get it. And, I’m not against exercise, healthy eating, and developing good body care habits. But, it’s easy to go to the extreme. How do you know if you’ve crossed the line? Ask your mom or a trusted relative. I’m serious. Your friends will not be able to tell you if you are obsessed. (They likely are too.) If it’s your mom telling you to lose weight that’s another story (You need to have her read my blog!). Focus on how accepted you already are. I want you to know and truly believe that Jesus wouldn’t love you any more or any less if you had better abs, a tighter butt, or a thigh gap before prom. Because it’s true.
Number 7: Someday you will hate your prom photos, no matter how good you look. So, try to relax.
Then there’s the pictures. Oh, all the pictures. There’s the formal, photographer one where you stand in this goofy pose with your date until it’s totally embarrassing and uncomfortable. Or all those pictures you and your friends take on their phones. And, for like a solid five days, these photos will feel like they run your life. You’ll either love the way you look in them, or be totally embarrassed that a friend tagged the photo of you with a dinner roll sticking out of your mouth.
I lost my prom pictures long before I started college. After you turn a certain age, it becomes juvenile to have them on display, anywhere. So, don’t worry, these photos won’t be with you forever. They’ll likely disappear before the end of your teens.
And, they are just photos. They aren’t the whole you. They don’t tell the whole story. They show one side of you–an image. But that’s it.
You, dear one, are more than just an image. You are a young woman–filled with light that the world needs to see. Don’t let the pressure of the perfect selfie distort the reality of what is important.
Your soul is greater than your selfie. So, let it shine.
Heather, I just happened upon you in the last three weeks or so and have spent many lunch hours with you. Thank you for all that you do. I myself have 5 children, 2 boys and 3 girls ranging from 7 to 21. Your stories and videos are phenomenal. I have struggled since I was 15 with body image and disordered eating and still secretly do. I love Jesus and know he loves me even more, but need a good kick in the rear to remember that, so thank you. This particular post couldn’t come at a better time! My best, ML
ML — thank you so much! That means a tremendous amount to hear that. I get the struggle! For sure. Thanks for hanging out with me on your lunch too! 🙂 Praying for your journey. Know you are certainly not alone…and that kick in the rear…haha! Don’t we all need one of those? 🙂 Thanks again for writing and your encouragement!
Heather shares a lot of truth in this article! I didn’t have a date my junior year for homecoming or Jr/Sr Banquet. I asked someone to homecoming my senior year and got turned down. I also got turned down when I asked someone as a senior to the Jr/Sr Banquet. Does any of that matter now? Nope! I had been desperate for someone to like me. God made me wait until after college to meet the right guy. I am now happily married (15 years) with two almost-teenagers.
Thanks for sharing that Amy! Yes, it hurts our hearts to go through at the time. I remember the hurt and frustration. But, I pray my daughter will be able to keep a longer term perspective and know that one night doesn’t mean eternity! 🙂 Thanks for chiming in!