Sadly, I can't un-see the M-A Fashion Show. Turns out it's not a fashion show at all, but a pageant advertising local clothing boutiques, gender stereotypes, and a hollow consumerist lifestyle. I squirmed in my seat, my daughter to my right, sophomore boys to my left, through a show that portrayed senior girls in various states of cute, pretty, and sexy. Their male counterparts compensated for the show's awkwardness with silly dance moves, hats, and shades.
But the most recognizable look the teenagers sported was discomfort. These children no doubt had countless academic and athletic achievements. That afternoon we subjected them to our collective gaze.
The spectacle was exaggerated by the arrival of parents on stage — fathers in tuxedos "gave away" girls in formal dresses. Boys in tuxedos were admired by mothers sporting sexy dresses and sunglasses. I breathed a sigh of relief that the segment sponsored by the Palo Alto boutique "Nouvelle Bride" did not include child brides next to their geriatric fathers.
It's a confusing event. The mood is celebratory with pop music pumping. These young women and men are in the prime of their beauty. The parents' pride in their children is unmistakable. But M-A's diverse student body was hardly represented, and the students' creativity was nowhere in sight. The Thrift Store segment was the only glimmer of what the show might have been. The outfits and choreography in that brief interlude were designed by the models themselves, highlighting the students' authenticity and creativity.
M-A's seniors served as props to represent a particular lifestyle: golf trips to Palm Springs, ski trips in Tahoe, spinning classes at Soul Cycle, season tickets to the Giants, and countless galas. The message to our girls is clear — a life of beauty and leisure is what we value. If you look good in yoga pants, you can marry rich, vacation non-stop, raise children, and choreograph a fashion show like this! The message to our boys is also discouragingly stereotypical — goof off, until you inherit the prosperity you rightly deserve, and then you can take your family on cool ski vacations and sporting events, marry a younger wife, rinse and repeat.
Where was the message that we've been promoting to our children since elementary school that they can be whatever they can dream? What about the documentaries that Hillview shows parents year after year about the ways the media warps our children's expectations of girls and boys?
Sadly, nothing demonstrated our community's true ambitions for its children better than a full-page advertisement by a local Realtor that showed her in all the poses from the show: skiing in Tahoe, wearing exercise clothes, and finally, sprawled backwards in a sexy position across her horse. The ad featured a quote by Henry David Thoreau, a man who built a one-room house on Walden Pond. The irony of using Thoreau to sell mansions in Atherton was obviously lost on her.
It's a confusing time. Our country's first lady is a former model who lied about having a college degree and was exposed as a plagiarist at the Republican National Convention. A top White House adviser hawks "looks" for a brand that she inherited from her daddy (who also secured every job she ever had).
This is not the future that I want for my daughter. I want her to live a life that reflects her intentions. I want her to have equality in all things. I want her to have economic independence. Most importantly, I want her to be able to have a family and a career; and I'd like her experience to be easier than mine has been. I don't give a damn if she ever goes on a ski vacation or attends a spinning class.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that not a single outfit appropriate for a working woman in tech was modeled at the M-A Senior Fashion Show. The lifestyle portrayed is hardly representative of the life I lead as a tech professional and the challenges our kids face, most especially our young women.
Later that night, I described the event to a Sacred Heart teacher. She confessed that the fashion show tradition began at her school, but that the school was finally doing away with it this year.
In this singular case, I hope that our public school will follow Sacred Heart's lead. I have seen my last M-A fashion show. I hope our community, and most especially the young women and men in our community, have too.
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