Cinderella syndrome is way out of hand
Picture a psychologist’s office. Inside, there’s a 16-year-old girl. She’s sobbing. No, her parents haven’t divorced and her BF hasn’t unfriended her. She’s crying about the dress she wants to wear to her school formal. Her parents won’t buy it. Why? Because it costs $3000.
True story. It was relayed to me by one of Australia’s finest psychologists and, no, he didn’t counsel with, “Come on, Princess. Get a grip,” which would have been my response.
Sure, it’s more than 20 years since I went to my school formal in an approximation of Cyndi Lauper’s finest get-up (I may or may not have worn rags in my hair). And, yes, I appreciate that events have become a little more sophisticated than my big night, the highlight of which was sneaking out to drink wine pinched from the kitchen by a roadie from the band – ironically called The Snatch.
In fact, I’m all for coming-of-age celebrations. What could be more special than one last sweet summer night with your classmates before you all head off into the world? But when did formals go from a bit of a pash and a piss-up to a parade of materialism and one-upmanship?
The school formal industry in Australia is worth millions. Girls spend an average of $1330 on their dresses, fake tans, hair, make-up, manicures and transport. Boys, a bit less.
Competition for dresses is rife. Girls are advised to download the iFrockUp app or set up a Facebook page so they can post their chosen dress and warn friends off buying the same design. Writer and researcher Nina Funnell tells of how, at her Year 10 formal, two girls had a vicious fight after buying identical dresses.
“The whole circle of friends began to weigh in on the feud, vigorously debating who had prior claim on the dress; was it the girl who saw it first, who purchased it first, who looked best in it or the one who had lost the most weight, thus demonstrating the most ‘commitment’ to the dress?”
How you get to the ball is equally important. Forget being dropped off in Dad’s Corolla. These days, it’s all limos, buses and, for the seriously cashed-up, a stretch Hummer, complete with DJ and disco ball. For a real red-carpet feel, you can even hire your own paparazzi to scream out your name out front.
Admittedly, kids these days study damn hard and deserve a reward. But with one formal website suggesting ways you can ‘outdo everyone else’ and ‘get everyone talking’, surely it’s becoming more about competition than camaraderie; more ‘my 15 minutes of fame’ than ‘our fab night of fun’.
And what of the kids who can’t afford any of this? Our babysitter tells me she hated her formal at a top girls’ school. “I spent weeks worrying who I could take, hundreds on a dress and it was on a cruise, so I couldn’t even leave when I wanted.”
Fortunately, there are some kids keeping it real. My sister-in-law teaches teens who, each year, opt for op-shop frocks, a parent-supplied supper and, instead, donate money to charity. This year, they supported victims of the Christchurch earthquake – even getting sponsorship to fly the head girl and boy from a quake-hit school to the formal.
On the night, all the focus was on three friends who’d chosen the same $50 Supré dress and accessorised within an inch of their lives. According to my sis, they were the belles of the ball.
Catch Angela Mollard on Weekend Today, Sundays at 7am on the Nine Network.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/angelamollard.
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