When I told people I was about to embark on a one week all girls camp for grade school and middle school girls, I heard the usual litany of dire predictions about overwhelming amounts of emotions and hormones and drama. As it turned out, it was nothing of the sort.
We assembled 48 female campers, 20 in grade school and 28 in middle school, along with 16 women staff and 4 guys, me included. Our staff team worked hard to set strong intentions of everyone feeling safe, included, open, and accepted. The first night we let the campers create their own list of intentions for the week and they were passionate about wanting to create the kind of community where everyone felt included and accepted; where they didn’t have to worry about gossip and rumors; where they could relax and make lots of friends and have a ton of fun.
We did some exercises that quickly tore down their walls and allowed them to trust the staff and each other. The second night we had an “ice cream social”, which actually entailed 5 stations of progressively getting messier and messier. It involved lemonade, shaving cream and a face full of chocolate and strawberry sauce along with sprinkles and fruity Pebbles cereal. The intention was to get the girls to let go of the worries and insecurities about how they looked, and it was a huge success. The rest of our week flowed from there.
These girls sang silly songs, danced, held hands when the walked down to the lake, drew cool body art on each other, painted each other’s nails and made friendship bracelets galore. Having this safe space allowed them to let the little kids in them come out to play, something their busy, pressured lives have little time for.
I saw shy girls belting out Taylor Swift songs at karaoke night; normally reserved and self-conscious girls creating dance routines for the talent show; girls of all sizes and shapes prancing down our inner beauty contest catwalk showing their talents.
Girls got real and talked about all the fears they harbor about losing friends, not being included in popular groups, feeling not good enough or pretty enough. They shared story after story of putting up with abuse from their “friends” and feeling like they had to apologize to friends even when they hadn’t done anything. They shared their worries about their changing bodies, and how empty they feel when they spend inordinate amounts of time and energy comparing themselves to friends, peers and women in the media.
They loved having a space to breathe, be honest and real, share their stories and hear others stories, really internalize that they weren’t alone or the only one who felt that way. It was refreshing to not feel judged all week, especially since they allowed themselves to be so open and vulnerable.
Overwhelming emotions and drama? Nope. We had a few incidents of drama, but the girls were given the tools to handle it and it was over. They were given the opportunity and tools to express all their feelings in healthy ways, so it wasn’t overwhelming; it was releasing and freeing.
I was amazed and inspired at these girls strength and resolve, and it reminded me that all girls need spaces where they can come alive, be authentic and be affirmed for who they are. They need and want times where all parts of themselves can come out to play; quiet reflecting parts, wild and silly parts, girly girl parts, “Tom-boy” parts, little kid parts, and deep mature parts. Providing girls these spaces is essential to their becoming the strong, authentic women they are meant to be.
This article was published in Town & Style Magazine in the October 6-7, 2012 Issue. Click to read it in print.