Sisterhood Blog

Are 'No Body Talk' Summer Camps Good for Girls?

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share

At Eden Village, a Jewish organic farm summer camp in Putnam Valley, New York, there is a firm house rule against body talk. Campers are to refrain from talking about their appearances or the appearances of others, and this includes commenting on clothing too, so no telling Rachel her flip-flops are cute.

As described in a recent New York Times article about the rise of “no body talk” summer camps, the boys and girls who attend Eden Village are encouraged to welcome the Shabbat by complementing one another’s shining souls rather than the way they look. The bathroom mirrors are adorned with sayings like “don’t check your appearance, check your soul.”

The camp directors said that adopting the rule felt obvious. “This is good,” Vivian Stadlin, who founded the camp with her husband Yoni six years ago, told the Times, “This is powerful. This is magical.” She spoke about how free the kids feel to explore their identities, including how they dress, in this judgement-free setting.

Eden Village camper Rachel Steinig, a 14-year-old high school freshman from Mount Airy, Pa., who is returning for her third season this summer, said that she feels like the body talk ban pushes her fellow campers to pay more attention to who she is as a person. “Your dress isn’t really you, it’s just something you bought. But whether you are a good friend, that’s truly you,” she told the Times.

That women of all ages should put less energy into the way they look is a given. But the question raised by these “no body talk” camps is whether going cold turkey is really the right approach. The Times pieces quoted a number of critics who thought that more healthy dialogue about body image would go a lot further than avoiding the topic altogether. Without having experienced body talk bans myself, I am inclined to agree with them.

We owe it to young girls to help them navigate a world in which it is all too confusing as to whether Miley Cyrus’s hot pants are feminist or retrograde, a symbol of sex-positive feminism or her susceptibility to the enduring power of the male gaze. I write about this stuff for a living and I still struggle to answer these questions.

It is so hard to know when we are dressing for ourselves or dressing for others and even harder to figure out if we want to lose five pounds for ourselves or others. And then there is difficult balance of helping girls feel comfortable and confident in their sexuality while making sure that they don’t think their sexuality defines their self worth. Lastly, how do we teach them to not worry too much about fashion without denigrating the joy dressing up brings to many of us? These are muddy waters ladies, muddier than the local lake those “no body talk” pre-teen campers probably go skinny dipping in late at night.

I don’t doubt that taking a break from body talk makes girls less concerned over things like thigh gap and unwanted facial hair, but I wonder how long that aura of positivity will follow them when they are back in the real-world of Photoshop and body-shaming tabloids. Better, I think, to help them through the hard stuff rather than pretend it isn’t there.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: body, camp, girls

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.