Friday, June 20, 2014

Changes at Summer Camp: Banning Body Talk?

I heard something interesting on the radio when I was driving home from work. Apparently, there's a summer camp that bans kids from talking about their bodies. At first I didn't understand exactly what they meant until it was further explained. Kids aren't allowed to talk about anything related to their body or other kids' bodies, not even clothes or hair. First I thought about how hard that would be because if I see something I like on someone or if they do something different with their hair or if they look nice, I compliment them. Then I thought that maybe banning this kind of talk wouldn't be a good thing because people like to hear compliments, right? And I like to give them because I think it's nice seeing the other person light up and smile when they hear it. I think it's important to build each other up and you never know but you could have just made their day! On the other hand, though, banning talk about each others' bodies also decreases a lot of chances for bullying. For me, that definitely outweighs the importance of giving or receiving a compliment, and I started to appreciate why the founders and counselors were enforcing this ban.

Naturally, I was more curious and wanted to find out more about this summer camp so I googled it and found the full article. The more I read and thought about it, the more I began to think it was a good idea. There's been really positive feedback both from the parents and kids at the summer camp, saying that kids feel free to dress however they like without worrying about what other kids will say. In short: they feel free to be themselves. Exactly how they are aside from their looks, clothes, hair, or any other physical attributes. I think that's so wonderful and makes me hopeful that kids at this summer camp are learning to see each other for who they are rather what they look like. Isn't that a beautiful thought? In fact one parent reported that the conversations with her daughter (who is only 11!) have changed since she has been at this summer camp. According to the mother, they have more quality conversations that don't focus on clothes, hair, etc. but rather along the lines of life experiences. I think that's awesome!

Fortunately, I've never been the victim of harsh bullying. I was teased when I was younger for being short, which I still am, but it was never even close to the point that some kids have to deal with today. In fact, the boy who did it the most ended up being one of my best friends so he hardly did any major damage. It breaks my heart what some kids and teenagers have to deal with at school today so I'm glad to hear of a place where kids feel free to be themselves without fear of any kind of negative comments. The staff all work hard to create a "safe zone" for these kids that I have huge respect for what they're trying to do! There's a lack of bullying at the camp which they believe is linked to the no body talk rule, and I'd have to agree that there is most likely a strong correlation. I'm not saying this could solve bullying once and for all because that's a much more complex problem but it's a step in the right direction.

What I find most interesting is that kids also can't say anything about their own bodies which teaches them to see themselves further than skin deep. Ignoring their outside forces them to realize what is on the inside where it truly counts. One of my favorite quotes from the article comes from a 17 year-old girl, which is definitely a sensitive time for most young girls about their self-image and confidence. She said,
"For the first time in my life, people whom I had never met before, most of who were older than myself, were interested in looking beyond my appearance and into what made me, me. This brought about a comfortable confidence that I hadn't even known was possible, and allowed me to explore myself-- you never realize what is hiding inside until the outside becomes invisible." Isn't that absolutely fantastic?! So not only are kids learning to not tear each other apart on their appearance but it brings about a sense of self-confidence when they also can't say anything negative about themselves.

It all ties into my main point that I made awhile back in another post of just being nice to yourself! No more self-inflicting negative words about your image or body. It's important because we are often our worst critics. I think it's great to hear kids at this camp and how they are better able to come to terms with themselves because they are no longer looking just at the surface. They've learned to appreciate themselves further than skin-deep and feel comfortable being just as they are, who they were created to be.

So, yes, originally I didn't understand what they meant by banning body talk but now that I've researched the concept more I think it's a good idea. I hope that more summer camps will start enforcing rules like this as well as exploring other ways to help kids grow their confidence in themselves and teach to not scrutinize others based off their appearance. For so long we've been taught to judge people by their outsides (maybe not intentionally) that it's time we undo the damage.

Now there are always two sides to every story so I also looked into what people are saying against this...

According to another article I found, experts claim that this kind of ban only makes it worse when kids have to resume school in the fall and are once again bombarded with body talk. Personally, I get what they're saying but I don't think it would be that psychologically damaging to the kids. For one thing, it's not like they've never been around body talk. I'd agree if it was a child who had never discussed their body before and was suddenly thrown into our culture where the focus in on appearance 24/7. But that's not the case because these children have dealt with body talk before. I think it could also have the opposite effect where children spend all summer not talking about their bodies only to realize come fall how superficial those conversations sound. They've spent all summer practicing no body talk that I wouldn't be surprised it's a skill that would potentially help them in school, to realize that there are more important things than other students' appearances. If anything the friends they made at the camp and what they learned could serve as a buffer against the negative talk at school. Either way, I'm no expert and there isn't enough evidence to argue either side. I'm merely just giving my thoughts on the matter and I do believe it could go either way for the kids. Everyone is different so some might have trouble adjusting in the fall while others may not. It seems as though parents would play a huge factor in their child's adjustment based off if they were to also take part in the no body talk.

A second article I found again talks about another con of this ban claiming that it could cause children to repress negative feelings about their bodies. I understand that would be a huge issue but kids should be taught that they are able to confide in someone (parent, sibling, friend) about these negative feelings in order to reach a healthy solution. I think if handled the correct way, banning body talk will not teach children to repress those feelings. What I mean by that is it's important to teach children to not scrutinize others based on their looks but at the same time letting them know that if they are experiencing real problems that it is ok to talk to someone they trust about it in private. If those lines of communication are kept open and nurtured, then children would not think they have to repress their feelings. Yes, that's easier said than done but I don't think that banning body talk at a summer camp could end up being psychologically damaging to a child. If handled the correct way, I think it could be a positive influence. I know there's a lot of room for error in handling delicate situations such as body talk with kids and teenagers but I'm choosing to focus on the positive aspects. Such as the fact that kids are gaining confidences in themselves, have less interest in discussing people's physical features, and learning to accept one another based off who they are not what they wear.

Overall, I'm not trying to argue that this is a perfect solution or that the experts who are against it are wrong, but I'm merely sharing something that I thought was extremely interesting and giving my opinion. Like I said, I'm not an expert and there's not enough evidence about banning body talk yet, but for now I think it's okay for summer camps to enforce these rules. I would definitely consider sending my child, niece, nephew, younger cousin, etc. to a camp where this rule was enforced. According to polls, I wouldn't be the only one in favor!

What do you think?

You can check out the full article here:

Image courtesy of
You can't tell me that those don't look like a bunch of happy kids, right?!

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