Monday, August 8, 2011

Why is Camp Giving my Daughter Body Issues?

Last week my nine year old daughter returned from sleepaway camp.  She was dirty, mosquito bitten and singing adorable songs about llamas and butterflies.  She talked nonstop all the way home about her new pen pal who lives in Lake Oswego (which was uttered in the same way you might say darkest Peru, except it's only about twenty minutes from our house). 

As we unpacked her suitcase I noticed everything was wet and asked the obvious question.

"Oh," she said and suddenly she looked crestfallen.  "The swimsuit you sent wasn't..." and here she faltered for words. 

Child #1 in the objectionable suit.
 "Wasn't what?"

"It was inappropriate," she said. 

"They told you that?" I asked.

"No," she shook her head and then drew a v-shaped line down her chest.  "They said it was too small."

My daughter was trying to communicate something she still doesn't have the vocabulary to explain.  "Skimpy?" I suggested.  She shook her head.  "Low-cut?" I asked.  Bingo, those were the words used at camp.

"They told me to wear a t-shirt over it," she added.  "And the t-shirts got mixed in with my other dirty clothes so that's why everything's wet.  Maybe I shouldn't wear two-pieces any more."

I quickly reassured my flat-chested, fifty-two pound child that her swimsuit was, in no way, inappropriate and went to re-read the camp's packing guidelines.  The packing list said 'pack a swimsuit', end of story.

The more I thought about this incident, the more annoyed I became.  Now, I think it's important to go on record and say I understand the camp may be trying to encourage less revealing swimwear in order to make all girls, pre-pubescent and post, feel more comfortable. 

Except that's not what happened. 

What happened is my daughter was given the message that it's unacceptable to show her body.  Take that to the next step, which most girls are fully capable of doing, and you have the message that 'my body is unacceptable.' 

This is particularly frustrating when I've spent years attempting to instill self-confidence in my daughter.  The saddest part of this is I undestand many of the messages my daughter receives from society actively chip away at her self-confidence.  I don't want my daughter to spend her adolescence feeling inferior, fat, skinny, ugly or just plain unacceptable.  At the very least, you'd think camp would partner with me in this important message. 

And, one final note, a little FYI to camp if you will, wet t-shirts are more synonomous with Girls Gone Wild than they are with modest beach attire.  C'mon camp!  I'm convinced your heart was in the right place.  All you need to do is communicate clearly via your packing list and you could save everyone a lot of angst.


Unknown said...

Bahahaha I love the wet t-shirt point! I think you nailed that on the head!!!

It's shameful this is still happening! I can say this, when I went to camp I was told the same thing, I'll never forget who said it to me, and the fact I was one of many who was forced to foolishly wear a t-shirt beacuse they didn't like what my mom and dad packed.

We ended up buying a tankini to help prevent it from happening again but it did make one very insecure!

I'm so sorry for your daughter. I'd equally upset with the camp. They should have been more pertinent when explaining it on paper and to the child.

NoraA said...

If the camp clothing list wasn't specific about the type of swim wear, then that SHOULD have been the end of it. Who is it that made her feel that way, the counselors, the other campers? I'd contact the camp directors and put those questions to them. Point out that you now have a 9 yr old daughter who is going to be afraid to every wear anything that makes her look appealing and that you'll send them the bills for the therapists.

Gary Hoover said...

Our society seems to just be getting more and uptight.

I don't have any real answer for you. Just glad I don't have to deal with things like this any more.

jenny milchman said...

It's so hard when our family values (in the other sense of the term) get undermined at school, etc. In this case, I think your parenting is on the money and the camp really mixed things up. But with such a firm base of confidence, I'm betting your daughter forgets all about it long before you do!

Writing Writerly things said...

I'm so sorry that your little girl is being sent the wrong message. But here's the snag, this doesn't only happen with girls.

For the last three years, until March, we lived in France. My son was made to sit through his first swimming lesson, because even though I packed his swim trunks, they were not the right kind of swimwear. French pools require you wear speedos. Yes, even for 8 year olds, as he was then. I wasn't told. I was given a pool list, with the word "bathing suit" in it. I raised hell, because a) he felt left out b) he's so conservative he didn't want to wear that sort of bathing suit. c)it created a catalog of problems because kids poke fun at each other.

I think it's very unfortunate that children end up paying for the mistakes of the grown ups. I hope she has a better experience at camp next year.

Hart Johnson said...

URGH! I'm so sorry about this! I mean on some level I get that they are dealing with a slippery slope, so there is probably some 'rule' (because some OTHER 9-year old may honesly have breasts and it's too much, but how do they deal with HER...) That said, it should be on the list. My kids have been to YMCA camp and there the RULE SAYS--one-piece or they'll be asked to wear a t-shirt. My busty daughter of the tiny bikini has always opted for the shirt. But I am with you that REALLY bodies are bodies and it shouldn't be a concern at camp. I'd definitely let the camp know, though, that if they have some standard, the appropriate way to let you know is in the camp list you get before your daughter goes.

Kathleen Barker said...

I can feel your heart hurting for your daughter as I read this. A carefully worded letter is definitely in order to the camp directors, pointing out their error, your concerns, and the effect that it had on your daughter. Although I understand their desire for conservative attire for campers, their mishandling of the situation is unacceptable. I'm betting if you send this to your area's newspaper, it'll hit the letters-to-the-editor section and make it to print!

Alison DeLuca said...

The suit is adorable. Your daughter looks cute as heck. And my kid wears suits like that to camp, every day.

The whole inappropriate issue seems like it came form nowhere. I"m so sorry that you and your beautiful little girl had to go through this.

Connie J Jasperson said...

That is an extremely insensitive bunch of people running that camp. I am angry now, just thinking about this. That is just plain too bad; there must have been a better way for them to handle this than to have your child embarrassed and feeling inferior in a place that is supposed to be empowering her!

Johanna Garth said...

Jen-glad you liked the point about the wet t-shirt

NorA-good points

Gary-uggh, I know but at least she's a tough cookie and was able to blow it off pretty easily


Marilyn-exactly the same point but at an opposite extreme!

Hart-you're right, communication before the fact would have been key and will be the focus of a note to them

Kathleen-based on the reaction this post is getting on G+, I think you're right about the newspaper thing but I'd probably have to name the camp (which I don't want to do).

Alison-exactly! The suit came from Target (I'm pretty sure that means kids are wearing the same one all over the US)

Connie-my thoughts exactly!

Dr. G said...

I agree with you entirely, girls (children) are all too ready to here negative things about their bodies. And this may have been the comments only of one counselor or lifeguard who has body image issues of their (her?) own. But years of living with you and your messages are stronger than the messages of a camp experience. Parenting matters. Keep up the good work.

Lisa Zhang Wharton said...

I agree. I think your daughter can use her onw judgement in the future. I was brought up in China in much straight environment. So I don't feel comfortable wearing anything that reveals cleavages. Good issue to raise up.

The Bookworm said...

Oh, how annoying that they made her put a t-shirt over her bathing suit. What is the problem? She looks absolutely fine. My daughter (11) wears the same kind.
If they didn't want two pieces, they should have made that clear to the parents beforehand.
Don't stress over it too much, all the good parenting and positive self image you help instill in her will win out in the end.

D.G. Hudson said...

All it takes is one uptight, moralistic person to imprint a female with the wrong idea about their body. It's a shame this still happens.

Organizations have a responsibility to be SPECIFIC or suffer the consequences, rather than embarrassing the kids in front of the class. A teacher who does that deserves a refresher course in professionalism.

Where do these outdated ideas come from?????