by Jane Shulman
Whether it was the best night of your life or the worst, just about everyone
has a story to tell about her senior prom. Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell
offer the chance to share those memories.
The two education professors (Weber at Concordia and Mitchell at McGill),
have researched womens prom experiences for the last few years.
They put them together in a film Dress Fitting, which had its Canadian
premiere at the Simone de Beauvoir Institutes Feminist Film Festival
a couple of weeks ago.
When Claudia and I remembered our proms, we discovered that we had
completely different experiences. Claudia had a fabulous time and it was
one of the worst nights of my life, Weber said.
We figured that if our experiences were so different, there were
probably a whole range of stories and issues around the prom that we could
That theme opened a Pandoras box of interesting ideas body
image, identity, sexuality, and mother/daughter relationships.
The biggest night of
a girls life
In Dress Fitting, Weber and Mitchell invited women to tell the story behind
their prom dress. Some talk about not being able to find the dress of
their dreams in their size, while others said their mothers wouldnt
let them wear dresses deemed too revealing.
Juxtaposed with these first-person accounts are images of these womens
dresses and photos from magazines that reinforce the notion that the prom
is the biggest night of a girls life.
Girls currently in high school reveal their expectations about the prom.
One admits she is focusing on it because she is concerned about what awaits
her after high school.
In the discussion that followed the screening, many viewers said the film
jogged memories they hadnt shared in years, and there was a contagious
urge to compare experiences.
Weber said that they never planned a film. She and Mitchell usually developed
their work into books and research papers. They had often filmed meetings
and interviews for documentation purposes, but the material they had collected
for this project, including photos, magazine covers and the dresses themselves,
were too vibrant to write up.
We decided we didnt want to write a paper the whole
thing was just too visual, Weber explained.
Dress Fitting is part of a larger project looking at image, body and identity.
A book and another film are in the works, as well as an installation art
project. Weber and Mitchell have formed the Image and Identity Research
Collective to generate more material.
Were hoping to show how much an event like the prom can reveal
about ourselves. How do we remember being adolescents, and how does that
affect us in adult life? Weber asked.
She says the films purpose is two-fold.
First, to make parents see it with perspective and realize how much
pressure it is for their kids, or ask themselves if their knee-jerk reactions
come from their own experiences.
Second, she hopes the film speaks to teens who have not yet had their
prom, and hopes they will think about the social and cultural aspects
of the rituals.