Oh, Those Girl’s Camp Dress Codes
I am currently grappling with an issue that is hardly new among LDS young women and their mothers – but it is a new issue for me – that of dress codes and staying modest at Young Women’s camp. My oldest daughter turned 12 this spring and will be attending hers for the first time this summer.
She came back from a camp planning meeting with a packet of information, which included a strict dress code: no shorts allowed, shirts must cover stomachs, and only one piece swimsuits with shorts over them during water activities. (My daughter said she was curious if she’d be allowed to sleep in shorts at night because she doesn’t like long pajama pants, but was too timid to raise her hand and ask since they were so adamant about the NO SHORTS ALLOWED rule.) These rules, I presume, have multiple reasons behind them, some of which I probably agree with. I also know from my years as both a young woman and a young women’s leader that at least some of the reasons are because there will be priesthood holders at camp and the girls are required to dress modestly for them.
This frustrates me on many levels. Why do we need men to even go to girl’s camp in the first place, and why would we want to make the girls uncomfortable for their sake (too hot, bogged down with excess layers while swimming, worried about lifting their arms and exposing a flash of skin)? Isn’t the camp supposed to be for the benefit of the girls, not the adults? I also know from the photographs and stories of young men at their scout camps that they absolutely wear shorts, swim shirtless and go without unnecessary non-swimwear on top of their swimming suits.
The camp my ward attended was at a church owned facility, staffed by missionaries. I do not blame my local Young Women’s leaders for these rules, as I am sure they would have preferred shorts, too. I know they were passing along the instruction they were given, but let me break down my points of concern with these camp rules:
Men are going to girl’s camp:
First of all, I don’t think we need men at Girl’s Camp. I’m a girl scout leader and we go camping every summer with no men involved at all. Camping is not an activity that requires men to happen. Women can set up tents and build campfires and administer first aid all on their own. In fact, having men come to camp every year with us when I was a teenage girl greatly impeded my ability to learn outdoor skills. They would come early to set up our tents for us and be there the morning we left to take them down again. This seemed like a nice gesture at the time, but in reality it set me back quite a bit in my outdoor skills. Now as a girl scout leader (this is embarrassing), I STILL don’t know how to set up a tent or start a fire. I always have another (female) leader with me who knows how and she takes over and does it while I work on something else. I have become accustomed to this, and it all started when I was a teenage girl and thought that only priesthood holders could manage fire or set up a tent. I am sure that eventually I will have to chance to do this on my own, and I will do fine when the time comes. But in my mind, I still think of fire building and tent setting up as a difficult task that I don’t know how to manage on my own.
But regardless, men will be attending Young Women’s camp. That’s just how it is, and I am resigned to this fact. So back to the clothing rules…
No shorts allowed: I can understand that long pants might be a better option in some situations (to stay warm at night, avoid poison ivy, or getting legs scratched up on a hike). However, why would they not be allowed to even bring shorts to camp in the middle of the summertime? Couldn’t they wear pants when pants are appropriate, but be able to change into shorts if the weather is hot and they are eating lunch at their campsite? Couldn’t they be allowed to make practical decisions for themselves? Even in the 1990s when I attended girl’s camp, I remember purchasing an extremely unflattering pair of shorts from K-Mart that reached my knees to follow the strict “knee-length shorts only” rules of my ward. I also remember thinking it was annoying because my regular shorts weren’t immodest, they just weren’t quite to my knees. But looking back, I’m glad that I got to wear shorts at all.
(Quick sidenote! I originally wrote this blog post over a month ago, and I’m jumping in here with an update on the weather two days after my daughter came home from camp. Sometimes in June it can be snowing in the canyon, so pants would definitely be preferable in that scenario. Unfortunately, this year the second day of Girl’s Camp we hit a record high temperature in the valley of 107 degrees Farenheit. It’s cooler in the canyon by about 10 – 15 degrees, but all I could think about during the heat wave was all the poor leaders and girls wearing pants in the record heat. It makes sense to ask people to bring long pants in case of unseasonably cold weather in June, but why not also allow them to bring shorts in case of unseasonably hot weather?)
No bare midriffs are allowed.
It even adds “This is Mandatory” following the sentence forbidding them. Are they worried about the girls getting a sunburn on their bellies, or are they worried about girls not dressing modestly enough around the priesthood holders that will be at camp? Again, the boys will be literally shirtless at their scout camp this summer. Is that because no women accompany them on their trips, so there’s no concern about turning the women on with their partial nudity? If that’s the case, then let’s solve this issue by kicking the men out of the girl’s camp as well. Problem solved!
Only one piece swimming suits:
This is the one that baffles me. First, one piece swimsuits are a pain. You have to get totally naked to pee. Tankinis (in my opinion) are far more practical, cover the same amount of skin, and let you only get half naked to pee, which is far preferable. Unfortunately for some reason in our culture, two piece swimwear is considered immodest. Interestingly, I’ve heard from other women who grew up in different conservative cultures state the exact opposite – they were told that one piece swimsuits were inherently indecent because the bottoms were basically like a pair of underwear and the upper chest and back was usually open to the skin. Instead they would wear boy’s board shorts and a sports-style tankini top with a bit of their stomach showing (but less of their back and cleavage). They couldn’t understand the LDS phenomenon of forbidding the girls to show their midriffs since boys were allowed to not only bare their midriffs but also their entire stomach, back and chest at the swimming pool.
Shorts that can get wet to be worn over their swimwear:
What on earth is this for? They are going to a boating activity on a lake with the bishop. The only reasoning I can come up with is because priesthood holders (like the bishop) will be there and the girls need to dress modestly for them. This has been discussed many times before, but to state the obvious yet again – do we believe that our bishop is a saint with whom we can trust our 12 year old daughters to be alone with in his office while he listens to them confess to sexual sins, or are we worried he might be a pervert who cannot be trusted to control his thoughts around young teen girls in a normal swimsuit while at a swimming activity? We can’t have it both ways! Pick a lane, people.
By the time this posts, my daughter will have finished girl’s camp and she and I will be headed to Yellowstone National Park with our girl scout troop. The only clothing rule we have is this: wear some. There will be no men, no policing of midriffs or shoulders, and no bizarre rules about shorts over their swimwear – and the only thing the leaders will tell the girls to put on top of their exposed skin is sunscreen.
Finally, just for fun everyone…here’s a picture of what LDS boy scout camps looked like for over a century: