A few weeks ago, my sister and I swapped stories about our summers spent working for Camps with Meaning. In a conversation that ranged from outrageously horrible mosquitoes to silly camp songs to holy, breathless evenings spent in worship around a campfire, we spoke often of how empowered and inspired we felt after a summer of camp. My sister then mentioned that it was when she was at camp that she felt the best about her body.
Although I have not worked at camp for the past 2 summers, her comment resonated with me in warm, sudden memories of washing my flushed face in the morning and leaving it clean and without make-up, of lying on the grass, my tanned legs sticking out under camp-appropriate shorts, of racing kayaks with my campers, my hair tied up in a careless bun.
I wondered, after she said that, why camp improved our bodily self-esteem and our following discussion identified two potential reasons. The first is obvious. My sister and I feel comfortable and confident in our bodies after a summer of working at camp because working at or attending camp means that each day is filled with outdoor adventures and constant activity. Whenever I push my body to move and stretch and work I gain confidence in my appearance.
I found that our second explanation, however, raised ideas for me that I had not given much thought to in the past. Our reasoning was that when we worked at camp, the focus of everyone around us was on our actions, our ideas, our strengths, and our willingness to take on new challenges. We were valued for what we as individuals offered our campers and fellow counsellors emotionally and spiritually and for what we were able to share. What we looked like had no part in the equation beyond being the vehicle we used to do good work. And interestingly enough, the fewer people that cared about what I looked like and the more unpolished I became as the summer went on (showers are not a high priority at camp) the better I felt about my appearance. The relationships my sister and I built at camp were rooted in faith and love—the ten pounds we gained from camp food simply did not matter.
Perhaps this is not a new thought at all; it is in part due to the all too frequent judgment of others based on shape, age, race, and clothing that low self-esteem and poor body image is so prevalent. But it was exciting for me to realize that by allowing the body to simply be the beautiful muscles and bones performing the work of the soul, I can empower those around me to embrace their bodies as they are.