This is the summer after eighth grade, when a disaster at the hair salon left me with much, much shorter than intended hair. My counselors had me take off my glasses for the picture--I wouldn't have contacts for another two years yet--and we all helped each other with our make up. I'm wearing the Jewish star necklace that actually spelled out the word "LOVE" if you looked carefully enough, and a white shirt with fake pearl beads sewn on, probably with quite a few missing. The sequined hat was mine too, and thankfully the black and white imagery tones it down. We probably went swimming afterward, thus the swimsuit straps in obvious view. I still had my bangs then. And only the beginning of the double chin I'd have forever after.
I think, and remember thinking then, that in this photo, I actually looked beautiful. That wasn't a thing that I normally ever thought that I could be.
Because by 14, you think you have so much already figured out. I knew I was bigger than everyone else. I knew my hair, especially in those summers at camp, couldn't be tamed once humidity was involved, and humidity was always involved. I hid behind my huge glasses. I was lucky to be done with braces by then, but it wouldn't occur to me to think that I had a pretty smile. I looked around at my bunkmates and saw endless beauty in all of them, but never any in myself. Until we got these pictures back, that is.
A recent New York Times article talks about a new idea that no "body talk" of any sort is allowed at certain camps. Campers are encouraged to think less about their appearance, and find ways to compliment each other that don't involve discussing how they look or what they're wearing. I get their point, that kids can be cruel, and that there is already too much focus on our appearances, even from a very young age. But for me, camp was the one place where I could talk about my body and its perceived shortcomings in a safe, positive environment.
Those girls and I learned to shave our legs together. There was one summer where we spent entirely too much time in just our underwear. We asked our counselors, who were not that much older than we were, the things we were too scared or embarrassed to ask our moms. We tried to look our best for Friday night "Shabbat walks" with boys, and walked supporting each other when those boys didn't ask. We passed around certain sections of Judy Blume books and we never, ever felt alone.
Maybe things have changed in the last twenty years. Maybe I was lucky to experience all of that magic. Maybe a ban helps overburdened kids in ways I can't comprehend. But I hope those kids still get a chance to see themselves as beautiful, somewhere along the way, too.