Earlier this week I was dropping a friend off at home when I found myself in a very congested street. There were cars everywhere - pavement, driveways, in the middle of the street with their hazards on - the works. After dismissing it as some type of function and making my journey home, I was greeted by a WhatsApp from the same friend I had just dropped off saying;
“Oh apparently it was a Matric Ball sendoff...”
“Wow already? It’s only April.” I thought, still unphased by the mass amount of people who seemingly attended the proceedings of this event. Later that evening, scrolling through Instagram, despite it being almost 4 years since I matriculated, I was exposed to more of the same subject matter in the form of younger siblings, cousins and friends of my peers. An array of teens in beautiful dresses and elegant make-up beaming with excitement for the big night.
I get it - it’s a coming of age, you’ve suffered through 12 years of school and now you’re nearing the end - that’s something worth celebrating! However, there’s a lot of expectations surrounding the big night which can skew your experience.
I was beyond excited to dress up and I was super adamant about getting my dress made and not buying or renting one. I drew a picture and took to Pinterest for inspiration and it was definitely the thing I was the most excited about. However, I did also feel a little pressure - there’s so much discussion surrounding your appearance for your matric ball and not stepping on anyone else's toes by wearing the same colour or dress. I know people who wore a store bought a dress from YDE, people who wore stylish custom suits, people who found their dresses in thrift stores and people who rented a full-on ball gown. Everyone looked stunning and honestly it didn’t matter where your outfit came from.
Hair and Make-Up
Similar to the dressing up aspect, hair and make-up is obviously part of the general ensemble. The preparation that goes into Matric Ball can be intense - I knew people that went for lash extensions, manicures and pedicures as well as going to get their hair styled professionally at a salon and looked beyond glamorous - but I also know people who just threw on some lipstick and painted their nails and looked amazing anyway. My mom hired someone to do my hair and make-up and I cringe when I look back at my mismatched foundation and hairstyle that she recommended, but wasn’t my first choice. She kept announcing that shes’ going to make me look so good that nobody will recognise me - which made me insecure about my normal appearance. If I could go back in time and take my current hair and make-up skills with me I would’ve probably just done it myself - but at the time I didn’t trust myself to because of the pressure to look good.
Finding a Partner
A year or so ago I was alone in an Uber - so I decided to sit in the passenger seat. My driver that day was very chatty and we had a pleasant conversation during the trip. At one point he mentions that his son is taking a gap year and working at a modelling agency, and he was recently hired as someones matric ball partner. No, you read that right - people hire models to be their matric ball partner now. As crazy as that seems it made me think about the expectations to come with a partner. It brings so much added pressure into the equation. Initially, I mentioned to my mom that I wanted to go alone, but she worried that I’d be the only person in my entire grade that didn’t have a partner. Oh, the heteronormativity of it all. There were many people who went solo or with friends, and people who swore they were coming alone that ended up bringing a partner. I thought the whole point of the event was to celebrate the end of an era with the people who went through the journey with you - why should you sit with someone you hardly know and entertain them all night?
The Build Up
The build up towards your matric ball also seems to get family and friends very excited and many families decide to have pre-drinks or a send off before the actual event. Cars are rented, photographers are hired and after parties are planned. Was it just my school who set aside time to teach the matric class how to waltz or is that a normal thing? It’s interesting how this event is seen as the peak of your high school career and seemingly motivates you to get through your matric year. I know my Matric Ball was in the time between Mock Exams and Finals and parents were not happy that it was taking away from potential study time. I look back and wonder how I had time to worry about matric ball planning whilst juggling the stress of matric and university application outcomes.
I think we all know that Matric Ball can be an expensive ordeal - take all of the above points and calculate the amounts that they can all cost collectively (your choice whether you’d like to include the hiring of a partner) - then in addition to this you need to pay for your ticket? I was privileged enough that I didn’t have to worry too much about being able to afford the additional costs that come with attending a matric ball, but I was definitely aware of the mass amounts being spent. Looking back it’s kind of scary how normalised it is to spend so much money on one evening - especially when it’s likely that many people won’t be able to afford it. There’s a school in the Free State who attempted to create more inclusivity by making their matric ball a uniformed event and 70% of students apparently agreed with the decision - knowing that they could put the money towards college and university applications.
Am I being nostalgic? Am I turning into a bitter old woman? I’m sitting here conflicted, nearly 4 years later and I don’t understand the hype. My own experience attending my Matric Ball wasn’t bad - but wasn’t necessarily one of my most treasured memories either. I’m not trying to make you feel bad about spending time and money on a much-anticipated event - I did and I don’t regret going nor would I change the excitement I felt leading up to the event. However, I think recognising that these expectations and pressures can lead to many students being excluded from an event that should be celebrating the matric class as a whole.