Prom was a loooong time ago. And looking back, I learned a lot about myself, about relationships, and about my body during those prom years. I’m looking back on big life lessons that I realized then, and that I’m realizing now. And, I got dressed up in prom attire just for fun. Prom season, here we go.
I grew up in the suburbs where prom was a big deal. In our school, we had a Sophomore Semiformal (not as fancy but our first opportunity to have a real date and dinner situation), Junior Prom (a big deal), and Senior Ball (another big deal). For Prom and Ball, we’d all buy fancy gowns, get our hair and nails done, and perhaps even have our makeup done. We’d wait around or quietly make moves behind the scenes (Ask him if he likes me! Do you know who is taking who? Can you talk to him for me?) to be asked by a guy we were either interested in dating, actually dating, or just friends with. He’d get you a corsage. You’d get him a boutonnière. We’d either take a limo or carpool to a dinner with some friends, and then to the dance. There were after parties. There was a lot of dancing and fun.
And there was a lot of anxiety.
If you’re reading that little basic recap above and feeling like I’m missing the nervousness laced within those seemingly simple traditions, I hear you. Prom was the biggest deal ever at a time in life when everything was already a big deal. I’ll say, I was pretty well liked and friendly in high school. And I got asked to a lot of proms and dances. Things should have been easy. (Mo proms mo problems?) And yet every year when the formal dance season came about, I felt like I was preparing for war.
This war consisted of my inner voice hectically laying doubts like What if no one asks you to go? You’ll look like such a loser. What if more than one guy asks you? Who will you choose? And what if *he* asks and so-and-so wanted to go with him but I do too and what should I do then? Be a bad friend or a bad date? and You better find a dress that no one else will be wearing. But don’t find one that is too much money because Mom won’t let you buy it and then you’ll have nothing to wear. And make sure it isn’t slutty but also isn’t boring. and Oh my God should I drink afterward? And what if he wants to make out? Do I want to kiss him? And everyone is going to think I’m lame if I don’t hang. Remember what happened when you didn’t go to the afterparty last time? and Ugh I really don’t want to get my hair and nails done, but if I don’t I’ll be the only one and I’ll look like a weirdo in photos. and mostly Do I look terrible in this dress? Am I fat? Do my boobs look OK? Will this stupid strapless bra stay up?
I mean, waaaaaaaar. I know a lot of people say that high school was the best time of their lives, but I Disagree. With a capital D. While I had fun, it was also a time of high anxiety and self doubt. I can’t say I regret anything, because the life lessons I’m sharing here now were born because of the uncomfortable growth I was going through back then. Growth is not easy. It can be painful, tiresome, and often very stressful. But in the end, growth is worth it. As for High School growth? It’s epic. But I would not want to go through it again. You feel me?
You’d think I hated these dances, but I actually really wanted to attend them. Crazy, right? Here I am, at Junior Prom. Oh, memories.
Looking back at my high school age Kimmay, I just want to take her hands, look into her fear frozen eyes, and say with so much compassion: “Oh girl. Take a deep breath with me. You are doing the best you can. You are being you and you are learning. And you are making wise, thoughtful choices with your life. I’m so proud of you. Navigating these feelings is tough. You’re worried simultaneously about what others will think of you and how you can appease them, and how you can be happy with yourself. Trust me, it’s not always possible to do both at the same time. And it isn’t necessary. Your worth is not dependent on how you look, who takes you to the dance, what anyone thinks of you, or how hard you can party afterward. I promise.”
If I went to prom now, I’d like to think I’d have a new perspective on the whole thing. I also know I’d wear a killer dress like this one from BCBG. Now that I know myself more on the inside, I let it show on the outside. Bright pink and intricate floral details? Yes. High neck and shoulder exposing cut? For sure. Sticky Nu-bra and seamless thong on underneath? You bet!
If I went to prom again, I can’t say I would 100% be free of the anxiety, but I’ve had a bit more experience with some of the life lessons that were just budding during my teenage years.
Here are a few life lessons that presented themselves to me, and looking back, I learned in a big way because of prom…
- Be Yourself – Being true to myself and knowing myself are two of the most important things I have learned over the years. I actually believe that we have the opportunity to get to know ourselves for the rest of our lives. It’s a journey I’ll always be on. Prom was a very obvious opportunity to get to know myself, what I stand for, and who I wanted to be. I had several opportunities to test my integrity, set my priorities, and learn when I wanted to go with the crowd and when I wanted to do my own thing. From what dress I wore, to the date I chose, to how I hung out afterward, there were SEVERAL opportunities to decide who I was and what I was all about. And in the end, being myself was always the best answer. At the end of the night, or High School, or my life it is me who I have to live with.
- Have fun and dance – This one I learned right away. I found zero joy in standing around and trying to look cool. If I went to a dance, I was going to dance. Dancing is one of the most freeing and fun things you can do. It releases endorphins, it elevates your mood, and it loosens you up. I have never been afraid to dance, and I’ve become even less inhibited as I’ve grown and learned to like myself more. I actually have a dance party almost every morning in my kitchen (complete with an unwilling feline partner, Sunny, who just wants to be fed) just to get going, to connect with my body, and lift my mood. It’s something I look forward to every morning. And don’t even get me started on dancing at weddings and social events. I 100% relish these opportunities to publicly dance and have fun with friends or strangers.
- Wear what fits – This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’m a huge fan of wearing what fits, in every sense. I mean wear a dress, shoes, and bra that physically fit your shape and body. I also mean wear what fits your style. There’s nothing worse than showing up to a formal event, wearing something that is on trend, but not comfortable. You will regret it every time. Same goes for a bra or underwear that doesn’t fit. You know that I-want-to-rip-this-off-right-now feeling? You do not want that on an important night. Or ever. So just don’t do it. I beg you. Need help making sure your bra fits? I’ve got you. Check out my 5 Bra Fit Tips Guide and Video.
- Don’t listen to the haters – This means both the internal and external mean girls. Anytime I hear that mean girl pop up in my mind, I ask myself: “Is what she saying really true?” and if not, what is? I also ask what the fear is behind the meanness. Is it a fear of failure or not being liked? Usually, for me, the answer is yes. And then, I look for the opportunity to forgive myself for the misunderstanding. For example, then it may have been the misunderstanding that what I wear to the dance will define my worth. Now, this may look like the misunderstanding that if I show up to a networking event without hair and makeup on point that I will look like a failure and not “together”. This is hard, honestly. And it takes a lot of practice. And it’s been the most useful action I have been practicing over the past year. It’s also helping me put less stock in what others think (or what I think they think) and more into what fills me up from the inside out.
- Be your own best friend – I had a great time at prom with my friends. And, trust me, just like any other group of teenage friends, we had our own drama. What I really needed was to be my own best friend. I was way meaner to myself than any of those girls were. The inner voice telling me that my body/heart/actions weren’t good enough was not a good friend. I often relate my journey of learning to love my body to becoming its best friend. If I were friends in real life with the voice that was telling me how imperfect I was, that voice would be a HORRIBLE friend. In fact, right before my Junior prom, I “accidentally” lost about 15 pounds. I was 5’7″ and about 115 or 120 pounds. That is the same height and about 20 or 25 pounds less than I weigh now. I was so stressed out I was forgetting to eat. I never listened to my body and gave it the rest, fuel, and love it so needed. It was one of the darkest times in the relationship between myself and my body. Once I started to treat my body like a true friend – encouraging it to be its best, empathizing with it when it was stressed, and helping it say hurray – that relationship changed and both of us are a lot happier.
- All the worry is usually worthless – Remember all of that worry and fear and craziness I went through before these dances? It was kind of for nothing. At every prom, all the drama melted away and I had a great time. My friends, my dates, my dress, the dancing – they were always awesome. That worry was time and stress wasted on something that, in the end, was really fun.
What do you remember about prom? What lessons did you learn, or start to figure out? What awkward mean girl voices can you release? What lies are you telling yourself, and how can you forgive yourself for any misunderstandings?
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