A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
We’re fast approaching that part of the summer when all little Tri-State area kids finish up their final assignments and exams, toss their notebooks, return their textbooks, and begin preparations for the timeless regional tradition of heading off to sleepaway camp. Apparently these days, according to an article in The New York Times last week, this ritual is preceded by some new ones: body waxing and chemical hair straightening.
I’m pretty sure all I did was make sure I’d packed enough Archie comic books and cases of Cup of Noodles to keep me sustained both spiritually and physically for the next month.
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t one of those “camp kids.” I went and all, and it was mostly fine. But I put in my minimum time and got out as soon as I could. For me, summer camp often felt like the gym class that would never end, and developed into the awkward school dance from which no one may escape. Between the sports-centric girls and the ones who, at the age of 11 and 12, were already traveling with hair dryers and scrunchies to match every baby tee, my place as a bespectacled, funny, physically ungainly late bloomer was an uncomfortable one. I managed to make friends and keep peace, but I attribute that in large part to the Costco-sized tub of Jelly Belly jellybeans my grandparents would send me each year.
That, and the fact that I was a sure bet never to steal anyone’s “boyfriend.”
According to the Times piece, lots of city moms are allowing their daughters to take care of their awkward pre-teen body hair and frizz at high end Manhattan salons before shipping them off to the country. Said one mother, quoted in the article in regards to taking her daughter for a leg wax: “I always envisaged myself with camp friends on the porch, with those pink razors and buckets of warm water and shaving cream . . . I felt this was easier.” And another, who had an appointment for her kid to get a chemical hair straightening treatment: “She hates blow-drying her hair, so I guess it makes it a little easier . . . It’s just one less thing she has to stress about.”
I just don’t know about this. My inner fogie is grumbling pretty loudly right now. On the one hand, I do not live by revisionist history. I harbor no falsely fond memories of tackling the upstate, New York humidity with my frizzy hair and wishing I could ditch my glasses and learn to use a hair dryer like some of the other, more sophisticated girls in my bunk. And sure, the first time I was pulled into a “shaving party,” as we called what the mother described above, I was a little embarrassed and possibly mildly traumatized. Then again, it was also an important bonding moment for me and my bunkmates. In the midst of trying to be cool and kids at the same time, we were just a dozen girls sitting on ping pong tables outside, shaving our legs and singing. The pubescent social ecosystem is as delicate and nuanced as it is brutal. You can be engaged in an act as intimate as group leg-shaving one minute, and all alone at the canteen the next. These are the rites of passage. Them’s the breaks.
Sure, it’s nice for these girls that their mothers are helping them to fit in before they’ve even arrived, and I can appreciate the desire to make life easier on their daughters (though no one ever said a bikini wax is easy). But is it totally lame of me to invoke the value of the character building here? Camp can be awkward! Kids are awkward. And being placed into an awkward situation at an awkward age is part of what helps us start to think about what’s important to us as girls and as people, to develop an appreciation for our strengths and come to terms with or improve upon our shortcomings. For some of us, it’s the first opportunity to make a foray into sarcasm. This is important stuff.
Perhaps it’s a bit hefty to worry that sending our daughters to camp all primped and stripped of embarrassing physical developments will rob them of the ability to grow into independent-minded women. Perhaps campers are just way brattier and more spoiled and superficial than they were when I was there. Seems hard to imagine given the cushy camp I attended, but I guess kids grow up so fast these days. Hey, if I’d been taught the ancient art of eyebrow shaping younger, who knows the path my life may have taken.
Fly, little hairless birds!
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