Packing for summer camp is a little bit like outfitting for a Safari. You have to be prepared for anything including mud, bugs, midnight bunk raids and color war battles. The food will be strange, the beds will smell funny. You won’t want to admit you are homesick.
However, if you are a teenaged or tween-aged girl, what you will really worry about most, is how you look.
Especially if you sport a unibrow.
I’m in the midst of packing up my teen and tween daughter for camp this week, so I loved reading this New York Times article about the new pre-camp beauty rituals.
As “new” as these treatments are, some things don’t ever really change.
The summer I turned 10, my mother filled my camp trunk with all sorts of practical and fun items. My favorite Holly Hobby sleeping bag (worn so soft that I didn’t care if it was babyish), Mad Libs, Nestle Strawberry Quik powder, metal jacks, playing cards, a summer’s worth of Archie’s Comic books and enough camp shirts, shorts and underwear to see me through an active summer.
Then there were the things I packed. To my camp trunk I added cherry and watermelon Lipsmackers and my red labeled Sassoon Jeans, which were the only acceptable jeans, of course. I’d lobbied relentlessly until my mother gave in and bought me exactly one pair to shut me up. I insisted on a hot pink comb with a large round handle to go in my back pocket. The glitter shoelaces in my Nikes matched the comb perfectly. Into the Quik Powder I shoved hunks of verboten sugary Hubba Bubba chewing gum so I could blow bubbles and snap my gum to the disco beat like the other “bad girls” at camp dances and roller rink nights. My stationary was cool, too. Purchased at Fiorucci in the city, it sported photo-real dripping ice cream cones. I was guaranteed to be popular. Except for one thing.
I didn’t shave.
I was (and remain, sorry for the TMI) like one of those weird hairless cats. I’ve got nothing but the wispiest pale fuzz in my pits and my legs look like a blond 3-year-old’s. You need a magnifying glass to see the hair. To this day I shave about once a summer, to get rid of the one or two stray hairs that show, and call it a day. My mother and grandmother were the same. So when, at 10 I asked my mom for a razor to bring to camp, she laughed at me. Long and hard. She told me I was too young and furthermore, there was *nothing to shave.* She totally missed the point.
This is why my camp trunk also included five pink contraband Daisy Razors and some shaving cream that I’d secretly purchased at the drugstore downtown with my own money. There was no way I was going to camp without these essentials! Even if I wasn’t hairy, all the other (cool) girls were, and if I wanted to hang out with them, and take part in the group shaving ritual before dances, I had to come prepared. Very specifically prepared too. Only the round pink Daisy razors with their wire safety wrapping and rotating clicking blades were cool.
Slathering thick white foam on my legs, clicking to a fresh razor on the Daisy and giggling as I swished the blade in a bucket of warm water on the back stoop of our bunk, it really didn’t matter if I had anything to shave. It was the result of the ritual that mattered. I was as worried about being perceived as hairy or ungroomed as the next (actually hairy) girl. Once I’d participated in the ritual fur-banishment with my hallowed Daisy, I could get on with the business of having fun.
My daughters are, for better or worse, not as hairless as me. At the age of 10 my oldest asked to shave. I bought her a razor without question and showed her how to use it. When she became self-conscious about her brows, I took her to get them threaded. Why prolong the inevitable till some kids decided to be cruel to her? We asked that her brows be shaped naturally, to avoid a too mature look.
I’ve already booked my own daughters for pre-camp haircuts and brow shaping and wouldn’t hesitate to pay for waxing if they asked for it. If they had frizzy hair and I had the funds? I’d shell out for keratin treatments, too. Not always, but once a year. I’d consider it the gift of freedom from frantic flat-ironing.
I’m happy to take some of the anxiety out of the experience of camp for my girls. As idyllic and removed as camp may be, it’s still the real world, and even if they are roping cattle, climbing mountains or paddling on the rapids, no socially active real world tween or teen feels awesome and unjudged about her unibrow and hairy calves. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. Blame society, blame our culture. But don’t blame teens for wanting to fit in, and mothers for being sympathetic.
I think the pre-camp rituals are awesome if it’s one less thing that girls need to worry about. Maybe this will free them up enough to figure out how to enjoy still being a kid and going to camp.
Do they even make Hubba Bubba gum any more?
I sure hope so.
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