Last July, I sat down to write a blog post late at night after I picked up my daughter from two weeks away at summer camp. I had planned to write a post about easy summer no-cook meals. But I was having trouble getting my words on to paper. I opened a new document and started writing what I really wanted to write. I wrote a letter to my daughter’s camp counselor. After I picked her up earlier that day, Miriam had told me her counselor was on a diet and “counting her steps” in preparation for a post-camp trip to the Caribbean. Miriam's camp is in the mountains and the days are filled with swimming, kayaking, rock climbing, sports and running up an down the hills of camp.
I hated to think that a diet interfered with anyone's mind and body experiencing the joys of camp. Although I was certainly not surprised, it made me sad that diet culture had affected my 12-year-old’s camp experience. I also know that this is the norm in our culture and certainly the camp or the counselor hadn’t done anything intentionally wrong.
My post An Open Letter to My Daughter's Camp Counselor was shared online over the summer. It seemed to hit home for a lot of parents.
I was a camp person. I went to summer camp for 8 summers as a child. And then I was a camp counselor for several years in high school and college. Summer camp is such a special place. It’s a place removed from the “real world,” without technology. It’s free of many of the social rules children experience all year. And camp is a place where acceptance and kindness are expected. Summer camp focuses on character development, facing fears, gaining independence and trying new things. When you are at camp, you are immersed in a new culture - Camp Culture. Camp Culture includes singing silly songs, giving lots of hugs, encouraging others, care packages, wearing bathing suits half the day, writing letters with pen and paper and looking up to the counselors.
Older teenagers and young adults, the counselors, are put in charge of the daily life of younger children. There are no parents there to make a child wear matching clothes. No one double checks that they brush their teeth well. The children, while cared for and safe, have a special kind of freedom with their young counselors in charge of daily life. The children look up to their counselors and want to be just like them. They hear them if they are talking about losing weight or dieting. Diet culture needs to not be a part of Camp Culture.
Camp Staff Training
As summer approaches and college semesters come to a close, camp staff members around the country will soon gather to get ready for summer camp and the hundreds of thousands of children who will be in their care. The counselors will have extensive staff training to learn about the values of camp and the importance of being a good role model for the campers. The staff training will consist of safety procedures, leadership development, team building, songs, dining hall rules, and schedules. It's my hope that camp directors will consider including information about the harm of diets and diet talk in their staff training. Because diets are so commonplace, information about dieting is not included as an important part of training those who spend time with our children. However, keeping diet culture out of the activities our children are involved in absolutely fits with the values of many of these activities.
Free Staff Training Lesson
We wanted to offer a short staff resource that can be included in summer staff training in the coming weeks. Camp Directors! Download our staff training lesson, Diet Free Camp Culture, for your staff training. Download our free staff training lesson here.
Parents and Camp Directors
Parents, would you share this with your child’s camp? I think the best way to make a change is through the voice of parents. Camp Directors, if you use this as part of your training or maybe decide not to, I’d love to receive your feedback on how this message can reach camps better and more clearly.