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Jane Roper is the author of the memoir Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins and blogger at JaneRoper.com. Her writing has appeared on Babble, Salon, The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and the upcoming anthology The Push: Birth Stories for the 21st Century. Jane lives in the Boston area with her husband and twin daughters.

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A wax before summer camp? No way.

By Jane Roper |

Me at camp, circa 1983. When it was totally cool to wear red pants and a yellow t-shirt.

I spent the first 15 summers of my life at overnight kids’ camps in Maine. My parents had been long-time camp counselors before I was born, continued to be involved with camps during my childhood, and eventually owned and ran one of their own.

I’ve been a staff brat, a camper, and a camp counselor. I even wrote a whole novel inspired by my childhood camp experiences. So you could say I’m pretty passionate about camp, and the value I think it brings to young people’s lives: the chance to gain independence, try new things, cast off the expectations and assumptions of peers and family, and be a part of a small, close-knit community.

Camp is also a chance — and an opportunity — to get by without some of the comforts of home, including the way you normally dress and look. Camp means flip-flops and t-shirts and beloved sweatshirts and damp bathing suits. It means less-than-perfect hair because you went straight from the lake to dinner and didn’t have time to dry it, or because there are 10 other girls waiting to use the bathroom. Sure, on dance nights you take the time to doll yourself up so you can snag a slow dance or two with that boy you’ve had your eye on. But the rest of the time, it’s about coming as you are. In fact, that’s part of the point.

At least, that’s what I think. And what I was brought up to believe. So I was dismayed (and a little ape-shit) to read this recent article in the Times about girls as young as 12 getting their legs and nether-regions waxed, eyebrows plucked, and hair straightened before heading off to camp. An excerpt:

” “It’s about grooming and cleanliness,” said Elizabeth Harrison, an Upper West Side mother and a founder of a public relations firm, who took the older of two daughters, Charlotte, for a full leg and moderate bikini wax last year at age 12 before she left for camp in Maine. “Last summer, she started to sort of say, ‘I’ve got a lot of hair on my legs.’ It seemed like a natural and smart thing to do so she wouldn’t have to worry.”

To which I say: Worry about what, exactly?

About the horror — the horror! — of shaving your legs under a dribble of possibly lukewarm water while you knock your elbows and knees repeatedly against the metal walls of the cramped shower stall? Or sitting on a towel in the middle of your cabin with a couple of other bunk mates and a bucket of warm water shared between you while you lather up and giggle and shave your legs together? Or — God forbid — letting your legs get a little bristly because you’re too busy swimming or playing soccer or doing crafts or roasting marshmallows to notice or care that much about what you look like?

I did or witnessed all of the above in my camp years. And granted, I’ve always been a pretty low-maintenance gal. Not to mention a late bloomer (in fact, the sitting-in-the-middle-of-the-cabin scenario was one I witnessed when I was twelve and not yet shaving, and recall being slightly intimidated by/jealous of). But I was at camps that saw their fair share of Upper West Side (and East Side) Manhattanites. And they were all down with the roughing it (relatively speaking) approach, too.

Are those girls now the mothers bringing their daughters to the salon for pricey waxes before they head for the woods? If yes: What happened? Did they forget how liberating, or at least eye-opening, it was to spend a few summer weeks not having to worry about being perfectly coiffed and squeaky clean?

More important, why are they sending their daughters the message that in order to feel comfortable and accepted at camp — yes, something all kids are nervous about — they should do things to their bodies they wouldn’t do at home? How about encouraging them to be themselves? To figure out, on their own, how to be comfortable in their own (possibly a little hairy) skin? Even if it’s hard sometimes?

“It’s about making sure your child is comfortable,” said Bobbi Brown, the makeup entrepreneur, who has written two books for teenagers. “If she’s going to be in a bunk with all these girls, and she feels insecure because she hasn’t taken care of the hair on her lip or her legs, you know what? You do whatever you can do to make her feel good when she gets there.”

You know what? I disagree. I think navigating the awkwardness and insecurity of being in a bunk with a bunch of other girls on your own is part of what camp is all about — and what makes it a valuable, character-building experience. And I think we do our kids a huge disservice by trying to anticipate every single, perfectly normal difficulty they may face at camp (or anywhere, for that matter) and try to fix it in advance by throwing money and depilatory chemicals at it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go roast me up a marshmallow or something.

 

Hey baby, let’s keep in touch. NEW Facebook page Twitter / Jane’s Calamity

My book: DOUBLE TIME, my memoir of parenting twins, battling depression and chasing that ever-elusive work/home balance.

 

 

More from Jane on Baby Squared

12 Great Tips for New Parents of Twins

The Missing Voices in the Mommy Wars

When Kids Dress Themselves

More on Babble

About Jane Roper

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Jane Roper

Jane Roper is the author of the memoir Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins and blogger at JaneRoper.com. Jane lives in the Boston area with her husband and twin daughters.

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27 thoughts on “A wax before summer camp? No way.

  1. Elizabeth Waugh says:

    Oh, Jane, how much do I love this? SO FREAKING MUCH. I read that article too and was just horrified. I was a camper and camp counselor too, and I don’t remember one girl giving a rat’s butt about hairy legs or lips or bikini areas, for that matter. We did our awkward cramped shaving in the gross moldy showers, or just didn’t, and it was NBD. We were in the woods! We were having a blast! I hate to think that young girls are so self-conscious about body hair at such an early age…or maybe it’s just their crazy-ass mothers. Ugh. When my daughters go to camp, you can rest assured I will NOT be investing in a pre-camp waxing. Over my dead body!

  2. Guajolote says:

    Can we find a camp that all like-minded moms can send their kids off to? Cuz there’s the issue of your kid being the only one who didn’t pre-camp wax and that would suck. But there’s no way I am taking a 12 yr old (or 15 yr old) to get waxed. For any reason, least of all camp.

  3. Annie says:

    Nora and I went to, what we lovingly call, ‘hippie camp.’ Nobody shaved anything, ever. I never did, (not that I had to shave till my final year,) and it was SO LIBERATING. We didn’t have outlets, so forget any type of hair straightening or blow drying. One thing that some kids did do while at camp was cut their hair pretty dramatically. I’ll never forget one girl in my bunk started the summer with long, beautiful locks, and on a whim, she had a friend chop it into a pixie. Sometimes we would have fun “dying” our hair with lemon juice, henna, jars of manic panic, sharpie markers, or whatever we could get our hands on. But waxing??? FOR CAMP??? Minors shouldn’t even be allowed to DO that!!! I wouldn’t want my mom taking me to an appointment like that as a teen, nor at ANY age. Ugh.

  4. Blair says:

    Jane,

    Thank you for writing this! You asked a great question, Who are the mothers of these daughters making these sorts of choices? Perhaps these women were once girls incapable of navigating the sometimes cruel and rough waters girls face between 11 and 16 and they are trying to prevent the heartache and anguish they themselves experienced? Agreed this is really sending the wrong sort of message, and instilling more insecurity in a girls’ self image, but maybe the place it’s coming from is one of love and protection in a sort of twisted kind of way?

  5. Korinthia Klein says:

    I agree completely. The only real camping I did was 6th grade sleep away camp with my school, and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp (which despite being about playing violin a lot was still definitely camp). Camp is not about primping. It should be the opposite of that. About getting past that. (Ugh.)
    /
    http://the-quiet-corner.blogspot.com/

  6. Lauren says:

    I don’t disagree, but this made me start thinking a bit. If your daughter wanted to shave her legs before going to camp, would that be okay? What if she had money from baby-sitting, for example, and she wanted to spend it on a wax? Is it possible this is a new cultural thing that as non-pre-teens, we don’t really get? (Which wouldn’t mean it’s a good new thing, necessarily–just maybe a shift we’ll have to deal with.)

  7. Jane Roper says:

    @Blair: Great point. I wondered myself if maybe these moms were people that were embarrassed by their own hair issues when they were at camp (or in middle school or whatever). I just don’t get why they wouldn’t just send their girls to camp with a razor and some tweezers instead of a waxing — a very adult thing — you know?
    /
    I think I also bring my own prejudices to this (well, obviously): as someone who had a tough early adolescence — 11 to 13 sucked in a lot of ways for me — and who felt intimidated and uncomfortable by the fact that everyone seemed to be hitting puberty (and taking care of its attendant hygiene demands) earlier than me, I can totally sympathize with the desire to shield their daughters from that pain. On the other hand, I see that past suffering as contributing to the person I became — including my capacity for empathy (which, well, is probably lacking a little in this post) and even my chosen profession.
    /
    I wonder if the moms in this piece actually did talk a bit about their own experiences, but the writer chose to leave them out for the sake of being provocative.

  8. Jane Roper says:

    @Lauren — I was thinking about that, too. Specifically if maybe I’m just an old fart who’s stuck in the past — specifically my sort of crunchy past. :-) I’m just bummed out about all the hyper body hair removal that’s part of our culture. I read something recently about how something like 50% of women 18-25 regularly remove (wax, mostly) all their pubic hair. (Thus making their bodies look prepubescent again, ironically.)
    /
    Anyway, yeah, I might let my daughter get a wax, with her own money, if she were 15 or 16ish (even if I wasn’t crazy about the idea). But at 12? 13? Yikes — I don’t think so.
    /
    P.S. I love you guys. All of you. For being so thoughtful in your comments.

  9. Shannon Brisson says:

    To me this is further evidence of the “adult-ing” of our youth-specifically young girls. Go into any department store-Target, Macy’s whatever- spend a little time in the 0-5 department then stroll over to the 6-11 (tween), and you will notice a DRAMATIC change in cut, shape and exposure. In many ways the social/gender roles-instead of unilaterally expanding over the last 40 years, has actually constricted and become more rigid as evidence by the heavy “genderizing” of toys and toy aisles.

    I developed boobs, pimples and my period by age ten. But not body hair. If Ginger, my nearly 6 yro wants to alter her appearance when she approaches that I age I will ask her to think long and hard about why she’d want to shave/ wax (everyone is doing it? embarrassed? uncomfortable? prefers the look?) and then I would empower her to make her own choice regarding her body. I will not however pay for waxing.

  10. Aunt Heidi says:

    I actually went to camp with a rather…uh…wealthy number of girls, lots of “upper east side types” if you will (Although the girls were from all over the country). The daughter of the owner of Revlon was in my age group, the Lipton girls (as in Liption, soup, ice tea, etc.) were campers…a whos who of girls from Spence, Dalton, Horace Mann etc… I came from very good circumstances myself, never wanting for anything…Very comfortable…and probably one of the poorest girls there…lol…but…with all that said, even with the kind of privilege that many came from, I NEVER remember that sort of overt primping… Yes, we looked good for socials, and special events, but for all of us, camp was about friendships and sports and arts, and songs and plays and everything it was supposed to be about…

  11. EG says:

    This makes me sad.

  12. Voice of Reason says:

    I cannot imagine ‘sending’ my child for a wax at the age of twelve before going off to camp. That said, I am going to play devil’s advocate.
    /
    I hit puberty at twelve and have LOTS of dense, thick, coarse, BLACK hair on my legs, etc. For a few years at the onset of puberty, my super hairy legs itched me so much that I would scratch them until I bled. To this day, I avoid going camping because of the lack of access to a speedy shave; I’m uncomfortable as hell and cannot fully enjoy all the fun camping has to offer. And, trust me, I’m no overprivileged princess.
    /
    Frankly, I wish my *blonde* mother had been more alert to my circumstances and introduced me to the joys and wonder of hair removal A LOT EARLIER. She “didn’t want me to grow up too fast,” but it seems to me she was completely oblivious to what my individual needs were.
    /
    Please don’t take offence, but I think it’s really easy to judge when you simply didn’t have the issues that some of these girls might be having.
    /
    And part of the fabulousness of waxing is that it actually *frees* one from the every day (yes, every day!) hassle of hair removal so that “primping” is unnecessary and one can get on the with enjoyment of being at camp.
    /
    So, in other words, I won’t make a determination on this one until I see what my own daughter needs when she hits that age.

  13. Karen L says:

    I went to lots of camps and I just don’t recall body hair being an issue. My method of hair removal was usually shaving and once I started shaving, I just packed some razors. My mother and my friends never waxed, that I knew of – they shaved – maybe that’s why I never considered it an option.

    And truly, until I read this post, I never had a notion of waxing being an “adult” thing. Hair removal seems like a (optional!) part of maturing, but any temporary method seems neutral to me. What makes waxing for adults? the cost, if you’re not home-waxing? the going to a pro part? kinda like home haircuts are only for little kids? Salon waxing is more effective and expensive so going that route implies a seriousness about the whole thing? I kinda don’t get it but I want to. If my daughter ever asks me about waxing, I don’t know any reason to discourage waxing over shaving. I’m all for having critical discussions with her about patriarchy and hair-removal and so please fill me in!

  14. [...] Wednesday, June 13, 2012:  NPR has Sandusky’s trial analysis on every a.m. talk show. According to an expert on men in prison,  there is a huge number of men clogging the penal system who have histories of sexual abuse. All those men, untreated for sexual abuse. All those men with huge violent wounds. And while I listen to why men seek treatment less often (fear of being perceived as weak or non-manly) for sexual abuse than women I read Hayley’s piece about online misogyny. Then, as is my ritual, I stopped by Jane Roper’s, she had a piece on girls getting waxed before going to summer camp. [...]

  15. Jane Roper says:

    @V.O.R. I am totally sympathetic to the issues that some girls with very dark hair have even though, yes, as a light-brown-haired, fair-skinned person I didn’t have them myself. I still don’t get why shaving isn’t an option when you’re at summer camp (where there are almost always hot showers, etc. And remember, this is camp, not camping — which is a different thing), but if waxing is the better solution in cases like that, then I get it.
    /
    The thing that shocked me in the article was that apparently salon waxing (not just legs, but underarms and bikini line) as well as hair straightening and other salon services are happening so frequently for tweens and young teens. To wit:
    /
    “Maggie Santos, the manager at J. Sisters, a Midtown salon specializing in waxing, said that about 40 percent of hair-removal services in late May and the first few weeks of June are for clients younger than 16. Kimara Ahnert, who runs a salon bearing her name on Madison Avenue, said that she is seeing not only an influx of moms bringing daughters in for precamp hair removal or eyebrow shaping, but also the occasional son for a facial or a quick wax over the nose to separate the dreaded unibrow.
    /
    I guess it just makes me sad that these cosmetic procedures are a serious part of pre-camp prep for these kids when my view of camp is that it should be the very antithesis of preening and prepping; a chance to worry less about appearances, not more.

  16. Jane Roper says:

    @Karen — Good point. And I wrestled with this as well: why exactly *is* waxing more grown-up than shaving? Certainly I don’t have a problem with adult women waxing their body hair.
    /
    I’m still not sure I have a bulletproof answer. I think it is partly the idea of spending $50-$100 on waxing a kid’s legs, which seems like a lot to spend on a kid to me (but I’m cheap when it comes to beauty stuff.) I think it’s partly the pain. And the chemicals, which I’m not sure it’s so great to expose kids to. But these are all very subjective concerns, based on my values and priorities.
    /
    Maybe it is, in part, the “seriousness” of waxing. It feels almost like a form of violence against your own body (i.e. ripping hair up by its roots using chemicals) and its natural state. Somebody out there could, I’m sure, wax (get it?) feminist and anti-patriarchal about that.

  17. Voice of Reason says:

    Thanks, Jane. I do get it. In my mind, too, we are sexualizing children far too early and my assumption is that a bikini wax for a 12 year old is a part of that. I don’t take my 5 year old for pedicures or give her facials, either, because I think our obsession with the superficial has led us to a very ugly place, culturally speaking. I encourage my kids to come home from school covered in mud or paint or wherever their days’ adventures take them. I’m glad they’re not prissy about stuff like that. I believe that they shouldn’t be worried about their appearance or staying clean and that these early years should be carefree.
    /
    But puberty isn’t carefree. For anyone. It’s a time of self-consciousness. If my daughter had loads of pubic hair sticking out of her bathing suit and it was freaking her out to the degree that she was anxious about going to camp, I really have to question what I’d do. And the answer is: I hope I’d put her needs ahead of my own agenda because that’s what being a parent is all about. (You can’t shave a coarse-haired bikini line everyday – a nasty rash/boils develop.)
    /
    In all likelihood, though, I’d encourage her to wear board shorts.

  18. Linda K. Wertheimer (@Lindakwert) says:

    Yeesh, double yeesh. Jane, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I don’t have a daughter so I don’t have a stake in this one, but just wanted to second your opinion here.
    Camp ought to be off limits for this kind of obsession about looks, particularly the amount of hair on a young girl’s legs. Of course, there’s nothing parents can do to stop peer comparison in terms of smooth v. hairy legs. But this idea of getting your daughters waxed and plucked before camp sounds just a bit too much.
    Camp must be a very different place now than it was when I was a child. I too simply can’t remember ever worrying about what I looked like at camp. There, more than anywhere else, I didn’t care if my hair was matted down from wearing a hat. I didn’t care if my legs were a little – egads – hairy. I cared most about just having a good time in the outdoors.
    Thanks for such a great, provocative post.
    Linda

  19. Jules says:

    Yikes. Although I do remember a lot of hairspray my last year at Hidden Valley–we were 12 or 13.

    On the plus side, I also remember some leg-shaving when I was a counselor at OMNI–specifically, boys shaving their legs in order to be at their best for the Mr. & Mrs. OMNI drag pageant.

    Come to think of it, we were damn lucky to go to a camp that encouraged stuff like that. Yes, there were the inevitable giant balloons-as-boobs stuffed in boys’ dress fronts, but I loved that the boys dressed the girl contestants and vice versa. I’m not sure it made me less self-conscious, but it got me ready for Oberlin…

  20. penny says:

    I didn’t go to camp but am reading your book and you take me there jane so thank you and what a perfect time to read it. it seems disturbing to me that kids would go for a wax at that young age. my girls are little and I know they have lots of mediterranean blood in their body–so the hair growth will not be subtle….so not sure what I’ll do when it makes it’s appearance. If I reflect back to when I was “growing up”, dealing with body changes was tough and I can only imagine that in a camp situation, it’s something one would have to deal with around others. Camp seems to me to be not about obsessing on looks but rather about being outside with friends and taking in the blooming world of nature, colors, smells, textures…simply…life. Simple sounds wonderful. There will be plenty of time for waxing later.

  21. anne says:

    I was also horrified by the NY Times piece and wondered why razors and tweezers wouldn’t suffice. But I’ve never waxed — maybe the long-lasting results are worth the price and pain. It occurs to me that by waxing, these girls are able to avoid revealing whether or not they “need” to shave yet.

    Your perspective is clearly a result of your late-blooming, fair-haired personal experience. There are plenty of 11 and 12 year old girls who are hairier or darker than you were at that age and they have already internalized society’s preference for female hairlessness.

  22. SydneyRayne says:

    I completely agree. Camp is my favorite place on earth. It’s about being the best and the most of who you are and not worrying about the real world. It’s where people stop shaving their legs and straightening their hair every morning. I’ve gone to/staffed at a hippie/be free/get naked kind of camp where nobody worries about that stuff. I personally feel like the girl with the waxed legs would be the odd one out. Even at Senior High Camp for 15-18 year olds where sex is allowed and there are bags of condoms in all of the cabins (yes, it’s that kind of hippie/ be free camp) I don’t think I know anybody who shaves their legs more than once a week, if that, for the whole month. I don’t think the waxing is about the girls at all; it’s crazy mothers putting pressure on their pre-teen daughters way too soon and forcing a reminder of the real world into the fantasy land of summer camp.

  23. Jane Roper says:

    @Anne, I think you’re right that my perspective is partly a result of my fair-haired / late blooming-ness. But there were also a lot of dark haired, fully bloomed (and how) girls around me, and none of them were waxing (I saw them shaving and tweezing).
    /
    But it was the early to mid 80s, before everyone was tanning and waxing and straightening and bleaching and trying to look like airbrushed models in magazines at younger and younger ages. I just think it’s a shame how much times have changed in that regard.

  24. April says:

    I could maybe understand the problem with pubic hair on puberty aged girls and wearing swimming suits in front of all the boys if its a co ed camp. So waxing could fix that. Even though I have yet to have a bikini wax at 31 years of age. I do shave down there though.

    I started shaving my legs at like 11 or 12. I didn’t need to really, but I wanted to. Thought it made me mature. I guess if it is like a two week camp not having to worry about shaving your legs the whole time would be cool. But for girls that actually really do need to shave their legs.

  25. Gena Marshall says:

    Well …

    Jane, I love your perspective and agree with you and the other posters 99%. Camp should rustic, free and easy. There should be no more make-up than could fit into a pencil case.

    But like V.O.R. I am a dark, hairy daughter of a blond mom who didn’t get my needs. I remember not being able to wear a bathing suit without shorts because of the pubic / upper thigh jungle. At that age, shaving made my skin a battlefield of irritation. The hair was better. I can imagine other girls having a similar issue with upper lips, etc.

    Even now, when I think of desert island / post-apocalypse fiction, I think about how frigging hairy I’d be. That’s my first thought. Then food and shelter. Warped, I know.

    Just throwing it out there – getting your daughter a pre-camp wax could make sense for a few. Lucky for my girls they got the fair-hair gene. They’ll be late-bloomers and travel to camp light. Yeah!

  26. Debbie says:

    As the mother of a 15 year-old who just left for camp last week, I empathize with moms who want their daughters to fit in. However, summer camp seems to be one of the last places my daughter can hang out where it doesn’t make any difference what she wears, how straight her hair is or how much money her parents have. To her credit, my daughter, who, during the school year, gets up at 5:30 to straighten her hair and won’t be caught dead without makeup, said to me “I don’t really wear makeup at camp and I never straighten my hair.” Thank GOODNESS. But she did take her razor!

    Bikini waxes are the “thing” among girls her age. She’s asked me about getting a bikini wax and I said I’d pay for it the first time. But when I explained that it hurts/stings while it’s happening, she decided she didn’t want it. And she didn’t care about getting one before camp, so clearly it wasn’t that important.

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