Heidi Stevens: Michelle Obama’s #PromChallenge is a worthy cause and a refreshing reminder that not every photo has to be flattering

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Has a former first lady ever been as inspiring to watch as Michelle Obama?

Since exiting the White House, she has written a fantastic memoir (“Becoming”), traveled around the country talking about it with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, guided us through a too-rare dialogue about infertility and miscarriage, started Higher Ground Productions with Barack Obama and launched the Global Girls Alliance to educate girls around the globe, among other endeavors.

Her #PromChallenge is one of my favorites yet.

On Tuesday, she tweeted her 1982 prom photo (in which, defying all ‘80s logic, she looks fabulous) with an invitation to others to do the same, all in service of registering more high schoolers to vote.

“Throwing it back to my 1982 prom night and this pink satin, polka-dotted dress,” Obama wrote. “Join the #PromChallenge with @WhenWeAllVote and @MTV and tell us what your school is doing to register students to vote. You could get a free prom for your school!”

When We All Vote is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, co-chaired by Obama, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tom Hanks and others, that works to increase voter participation. The organization partnered with MTV on the Prom Challenge, which invites high school students to describe how their school is working to integrate voter registration into the culture of their school before and/or during prom. Twenty high schools will be selected to win up to $5,000 to throw an epic prom.

The Twitter responses have been delightful. hair. The wicker. The old school elegance. The tux and gown made of duct tape. More hair.

Paul Scheer, actor/writer/producer, showed off a corsage made of Gummi Bears.

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross wore Armani.

Columnist/author Connie Schultz wore a sea foam dress and shiny red curls and a rather bewildered look next to her plaid tux-clad date, circa 1975.

In addition to supporting and advocating for a great cause (youth voting), the #PromChallenge has been a refreshing change of pace from our tendency to fill social media with photos that are curated and filtered and edited for maximum flattery.

Many of the promgoers look splendid. Some have probably taken better photos in their lifetime. But scrolling through and stumbling upon outdated hairstyles and unflattering gowns and utterly nondescript backgrounds and the sorts of things you rarely see on, say, Instagram, is a lovely, little reminder that our whole, unedited selves are worth preserving in photos and sharing, here and there, with the world.

I hope high schoolers take Obama’s challenge to heart and register to vote in droves. I also hope they take it as a cue to live and present their lives a little less filtered and perfected. Better to let the real, human, beautiful stuff show through.


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