by Simran V '11

The Transformation of “Sweet” 16

Expensive cars, over the top parties, parents who don’t know how to say no and let’s not forget, spoiled brats who’ve always gotten their way. All these factors constitute the popular MTV show, My Super Sweet 16. In one episode, a Sweet 16-er travels to Paris, France for one day to get a dress. In another episode, a Sweet 16-er is unhappy after her mom gives her a 7-karat diamond ring. She is only content when she gets the newest Mercedes. This is exactly what Sweet sixteen parties have come to represent. The parties on this show represent superficiality, materialism, and are completely detrimental to American culture.
This is, however, not what Sweet Sixteens have always been. Today in American culture, sweet sixteen parties are simply parties. But, originally a sweet sixteen party was a celebration of a girl’s virtue and transformation to adulthood.

Sweet Sixteen parties have transformed from coming of age parties with actual meaning to the superficial parties illustrated in My Super Sweet 16. Sweet sixteen parties actually started out in England around the 1700s as ‘Debutante Balls.’ During ‘Debutante season,’ a young lady would be presented to society and there would be a ball where multiple ladies would be presented. One hoped that their daughter would have found a husband by the end of this season. Being sixteen marked the time a lady was ready to get married. Today, in America, debutante balls are still held. But mostly by those who belong to high society.
There are plenty of sweet sixteen traditions that hold significance today, however. There is, for example, the candle lighting ceremony. The birthday girl lights up 16 candles, each representing one person or a group of people that have made a difference in her life. As the birthday girl lights a candle, she usually gives a short speech about the person or people the candle represents. There is also the fairly common father-daughter dance.
In other cultures, however, there are different variations of the sweet sixteen. In Hispanic culture, there is the quinceañera. This is a celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday. The quinceañera roots from the Mayans and Aztecs. At the age of 15 in Mayan and Aztec culture, a girl was old enough to get married, take on responsibility, and start a family. The quinceañera represents a girl turning into a woman, just like the debutante ball did.
The quinceañera has its own special traditions too. For example, at a quinceañera, the dress the birthday girl wears is traditionally white or pale pink to symbolize purity. The quinceañera starts out with a religious mass and the actual “party” begins with a father-daughter waltz. At the start of a quinceañera, the girl walks in wearing flat shoes. But later, the girl’s father changes her shoes from flats to high heels, symbolic of her change into womanhood. This is called the shoe ceremony.
The age of sixteen holds importance in any culture as it represents a girl becoming a woman. But in popular culture today, the age of sixteen seems to be another excuse to throw a lavish party and in reference to the My Super Sweet 16-ers, show you are capable of something grand and lavish. The Sweet Sixteen culture has changed over the years, but hopefully, it hasn’t become the shallow culture one sees when they see My Super Sweet 16. Turning 16 is never about how cool your invitations are, who performs at your party or putting a huge dent in your parents’ wallets. It is about nearing adulthood and accepting responsibility. So we should not think of My Super Sweet 16 the ideal of what being 16 is about. It is so much more meaningful than that.

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