She’s getting stressed.
First sign: big, angry spots on her forehead and chin, semi-covered by a crust of your expensive concealer.
Plus she’s started chewing her nails again and doing that thing with her hair – twisting it around and around at the root.
She’s picking, too. Like an anxious chicken. At her split ends, at the food on her plate... at every word you utter. You know what it’s all about. She’s not quite 16 and feels the weight of the world is on her shoulders.
Pressure? It’s whacked up to max. Her GCSE exams are looming. Careers teachers are urging her to commit to A levels or BTec courses she thinks she can spend the next two years of her life studying for.
But surpassing all of that is this: what’s she going to wear at the end of year school ruddy prom. The highlight of her life thus far (so the flyers for the ‘one-stop prom shops’ gushingly, pushily state). The bane of yours.
It’s like a cult; girls are obsessed. The 15-year-olds I know have online dress stores stacked up in Favourites on their wonky old laptops. They ignore homework, Facebook even, to pour over frock after frock, zooming in on details, pondering which colour swatches to order from China. Yes, China. Several thousand non-returnable dresses, stitched by seamstress paid diddly-squat, will be swamping the UK’s teens in sequins and satin this summer.
The ditherers are running the risk, though. So my friend’s daughter discovered at a trying-on session in a South Yorkshire shop in February. The pushy assistant sent her into a right panic; dresses needed to be ordered at least 16 weeks before the prom date. If she wanted the dress of her dreams, she’d better get mum to cough up the deposit now.
You need lots more than a fancy frock, though, this anxious girl told me. I assumed she meant shoes and a sparkly necklace. How gauche of me. She needs to book a make-up session at MAC and an appointment at the hairdresser’s, cough up her share for the limo ordered four weeks ago, get her nails done and invest all her pocket-money from now ‘til June in new spot treatments.
She has to look perfect, head to acrylic toenail.
It’s not their wedding day, for Chrissakes. Most of them won’t even be leaving the school. They’ll be back in September for A levels (and retaking GCSEs at this rate).
Her mum, who had to fork out a deposit for the prom dinner last October, incidentally, is trying to rein her in. She’s refusing to spend the £700 that fulfilling her daughter’s wishlist tots up to, won’t let her compete with her friends’ £500 dresses and is steering her away from clingy, sexy dresses designed either for women 10 years older or contestants on Strictly.
But she’s up against it.
The prom is now an industry. A machine. It’s pushing girls into impossible quests for perfection and bleeding parents dry.
What can be done, though?
Which parent, or school, is brave enough to say enough is enough and take it back to basics – a disco in the school hall. In uniform?