Oh, Those Girl’s Camp Dress Codes

From the 2015 movie “Once I Was a Beehive”. These girls are way more accessorized and cute at camp than I ever was.

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. 

It’s interesting to me that dress code rules are on the top of the list , even before safety rules. Is keeping the girls modest more important than not being eaten by bears?

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:

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18 Responses

  1. Bryn Brody says:

    It’s incredibly frustrating and I think it teaches our children the wrong thing. When are long pants necessary at camp? When people feel like wearing them. I don’t think they’re even necessary on a hike. It’s also ableist and classist to assume every body works the same with clothing and that every child can afford clothes that meet camp requirements.

  2. Fairy says:

    They are still doing this? I can’t believe it. I thought the outrage of 30 years ago might have made a difference. I was reading these complaints at least 40 years ago. Why don’t the young women and women just boycott these camps and go somewhere on their own. I don’t get why people are still subjecting themselves to this kind of nonsense!

    • Abby Hansen says:

      I think part of the problem is that nobody thinks it’s a problem. Everyone goes along with the rules because they’re the same rules that were in place when they were teenagers, too.

      • David Lynch says:

        Abby, out of curiosity, what state are you in? In New England, young women are allowed to wear shorts at camp. Most folks also wear shorts at church events in the summer. I think the only modesty requiremrnt is 1 piece swimsuits at young women’s camp. It must be your local leaders that have such a strange dress code – definitely not a church wide requirement!

      • Abby Hansen says:

        I live in Utah (in Utah County). It definitely isn’t a church wide policy, as dress codes vary from ward to ward and from stake to stake right here where I live, too. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon at all to have the dress code we had – and most people don’t say anything, probably because a lot of us had the same dress code growing up, too.

    • Allyall says:

      We had girls camp at a ward level this year (in FL) and said nothing about bathing suit types or shorts. Some of the girls wore a bikini and some wore very short shorts. We laders said NOTHING. We wanted them there, enjoying our “camp” (which was at an Airbnb and local parks) and their clothing was appropriate to the activity and the weather. Outdated policies need to change at the whole church level, but we can start by changing it in our local congregations.

  3. Dot says:

    Fairy: Yes, exactly. Walk away.

  4. Ziff says:

    Great post, Abby. The reflexive policing of YW’s clothing–in the case of camp, as you point out, with no reasoning and utter lack of concern for issues like convenience or safety–is just infuriating!

  5. Cate says:

    I so appreciate this post. I was a stake camp director for several years and I heard a lot of weird stuff about clothes. I remember once my visiting teaching companion (as they were then known) complained that she was having a hard time finding a one-piece bathing suit for her long-waisted daughter. I suggested buying the daughter a tankini, since they’re easier to fit, to which she instantly responded that the top would have to be sewn to the bottom. WHAT????

    So, as a brand new camp director, I did a lot of digging into dress codes. The good news is, most of the craziness you hear about is generated by your local camp or by your stake; the bad news is – most of the craziness you hear about is generated by your local camp or stake and it’s hard to get away from.

    After making sure none of the specific regulations came from Salt Lake, I changed some of the rules that I think people were following just because they were tradition. The girls were able to wear finger-tip length shorts; most of the leaders wore (garment-length) shorts as well (although someone who had just moved in did ask if capris were okay. Again, WHAT???? What about capris could possibly be frowned on…?) The camp itself, which was owned by the church, required one-piece bathing suits; it was written into the paperwork we had to sign with them. Fine. I told the girls if all they had were two-pieces I wasn’t going to keep them out of the lake (90-plus degrees, 90-plus percent humidity) but in accordance with camp rules they’d need to wear a tank top or t-shirt as well. That was only required for bikinis, not tankinis. And that was the only extra “modest” covering we required; the girls and I both thought it was a fair compromise. Actually, most of the girls opted for white t-shirts, which didn’t hide anything once they were wet, but that’s what silly rules get.

    As for no open-toed shoes – well, yeah. Snakes and poison ivy.

    As for our priesthood holders, they routinely wore cargo shorts, carried heavy bottles of boiling water for us, and otherwise stayed pretty much out of the way. One used to bring his kids and set up camp across the field from us. They had a good time as a family and his twin daughters became camp mascots so in our case, it actually worked out well.

  6. EmilyB says:

    Underage girls are responsible for the sexual thoughts of adult men in this religion. My Baptist cousins aren’t, they got to wear bikinis and short shorts and tank tops at their coed religious Bible retreats for teens every year because at her church, men are responsible for their own minds and bodies, what a concept. As a young LDS teen I was actually shocked and appalled, this concept of girls being free to govern their own bodies was so foreign that it actually offended me at the time and I decided that baptists were heathens but now I admire them. My female cousin grew up to be a powerful woman with a great career and I did not.

  7. Mortimer says:

    Wearing shorts that can get wet over a swimming suit can be dangerous, especially if the material is denim or another fabric that weighs down the swimmer, or the shorts inhibit movement.

    Going shirtless or without a cover-up all day is a recipe for nasty sunburns and skin cancer.

    Wearing long pants on a hot day in the wrong climate is a recipe for heat sickness.

    It’s obvious that these rules weren’t written with health or safety in mind, but cultural views on modesty. Not only that, but there’s been a great deal of retrenchment in the past few years. These rules are stricter than those I abided by the the early 90’s, or that my mother abided by in the 1960’s.

    I’m reminded of the wall of photographs of the BYU homecoming queens from the 50’s and 60’s with crowns and off-the-shoulder dresses. And this teen in Utah who made national news for being caught trying to enter a school dance with this “immodest” dress https://www.today.com/parents/utah-girl-asked-cover-over-dress-code-violation-felt-embarrassed-2d80453387

    We like to point out the absurdity of Pharisaical observance in the New Testament, and the unnecessary minutia in religious observance of past and modern-day Orthodox Jews (how many steps are taken in the sabbath, the exact time of day the sabbath begins, strictness of kosher, etc.) We claim to live the “higher law” that Jesus taught (above rote obedience), but we are every bit as, or even more pharisaical in our measuring of the quarter-inches of women’s cap sleeves, of hemlines, of our observance of the WoW and our social enforcement of “the unwritten order of things”. As time goes by, we are getting worse and worse.

  8. LH says:

    Good guidelines: protect body from elements, have variety of clothes to suit situation, personal comfort.
    Bad guidelines: strict dress code that ignores weather, situation, comfort of individual; dress code to accommodate potential male gaze. Shorts or tee shirt over swimsuit because “modesty” just plain wrong, tee shirt over swimsuit because individual sunburns too easily: appropriate. Why have we given away our common sense so readily? Our accountability in blind obedience?

  9. LauraN says:

    Wait! Could I wear the denim skirts I wear most of the time at home when I’m doing activities that don’t require ankle protection? They’re a lot cooler than pants, but they’re not shorts either.

  10. Bro. Jones says:

    1) They’re STILL doing this?

    2) From a sleazy male perspective: one-piece swimsuits ride up and are way more clingy than two-piece tankini suits. Setting the fact that we’re talking about underage girls here (who shouldn’t be the targets of my sleazy adult gaze anyway), I’ve never one seen a woman in a swimsuit and either A) felt my thoughts descending to hell because she had on a two piece, or B) felt choruses of angels fill my head with song upon observing a “modest” one-piece suit.

  11. Ohhh Brother says:

    I realize I’m the stereotypical, white male priesthood leader here so I apologize beforehand and understand I’m setting myself up for some backlash. But perhaps my voice can be heard here as well. I also have a daughter of YW age so perhaps my voice counts for something on that front too.

    Although the male oppression platform is always a useful one for gaining a sympathetic ear, may I suggest a few cosiderations for dress codes at camp that hopefully have nothing to do with priesthood leaders? And hopefully these apply equally to YW camp and YM camps.

    In D&C 88 the Lord teaches us a valuable principle of law saying, “… that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.” In other words, the purpose of any law (or rules) for any society or organization ought to be to elevate, perfect, or make better the members of that organization. So if a camp has a dress code, it’s purpose ought to be toward that end of making the experience better for those who participate.

    Okay so a few ways that perhaps dress codes at camp improve the experience for YW.

    1) Health & Safety – The YW camp guide refers to dress standards under the context of safety and security. Ensuring attire and footwear are appropriate for the activity is an element of safety. I’m ever in awe of teenagers’ ability to select the completely inappropriate clothing and footwear for an activity. There’s been more than one occasion where we’ve had to make a trip to the nearest town to acquire a pair of shoes or boots because a YW only brought a pair of flip flops to camp. :\ Now I’ll admit that a no shorts and requiring shorts over swimsuits seems a bit extreme to me and hard to justify from a safety standpoint. We’re certainly not that strict at our camp. Although I’m always telling my kids to wear long pants hiking to aid against snakes, ticks, mosquitos, scrapes and cuts, etc., which they never listen to. Regarding water activities, not sure what your camps do but our YW camp has intense water sports (water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, etc.). That two piece string bikini designed for sunbathing on the beach is not a practical or appropriate choice for these activities. Even swimming in a lake where moss, reeds, or wildlife may be present ought to trigger some higher sense of what’s comfortable and appropriate. Establishing a policy here can ensure the YW are safe and comfortable in their environment where they may not have the appropriate experience or judgement to appropriately select their attire to match the activities they’ll be participating in.

    2) Body image and body shaming – This is a two edged sword. Unfortunately American society is relentless in using the human body, and particularly the female body, as a sex symbol and a source of unhealthy self esteem and competition among adults and youth. My personal observation is that individuals caught up in viewing their body as a primary source of attention and self-esteem feel a sense of competition with members of their own sex far more than any desire to gain attention of the opposite sex. And sadly, I honestly feel women in particular experience intense pressure to measure up against each other in this regard. Indeed, women seem to be their own worst enemies when it comes to body image, body shaming, and competition.
    And although it would be nice if we could all view our bodies the same way our Heavenly Father does, we’re just not there as a society and we’re wise to recognize the influence society and the adversary have on our thoughts.
    As much as we’d like to remove any sense of inappropriate body image and body shaming from the thoughts of our youth and leaders, the truth is that the young woman who’s a little overweight and struggles with self confidence and feeling insecure with her body may be likely to withdraw a little, and feel a little less part of the group if her counterparts are using their bodies as a platform for display, attention, and competition. A sad reality that we’re wise to be aware of.
    So if a simple, appropriate dress code can help reduce that sense of competition among youth and leaders, and give a little more opportunity for the young women to focus on what matters, feeling the spirit, building healthy relationships with each other, maybe those are potentially positive things. Indeed, YW camp may be the only opportunity for some YW during the year to feel the relief of such societal pressures.
    Of course, the other edge of the sword is that any emphasis on the body, even modesty, can inadvertently exacerbate body image issues and body shaming. A difficult line we have to walk until we’re all perfected, balancing the realities of our mortal condition with our desire for something better, but currently slightly out of reach.

    3) Sexual attraction – We’re very much aware that an increasing number of young and adult men and women experience same-gender attraction, gender dysphoria, or identify as gay or lesbian. That’s just as true within the church. And I don’t think it’s unkind to recognize that these individuals may experience increased temptations related to the the dress and behavior of others in their environment. Now, we should never take the approach of saying that another individual is responsible for our thoughts through their choice of dress. But, again, if a simple, appropriate dress code can help provide a slightly more elevating, perfecting environment where young women and young women leaders have a little less opportunity to be exposed to such temptations, maybe that can be a good thing?

    4) The benefit of clarity – Clarity around any law helps establish fairness. The topic of dress standards for women is one with high opportunity for offense in our society (blog post as case in point), even potential legal offense. Young and adult men and women in the church have varying levels of conservativeness on this topic. By establishing some clarity around a standard of dress that is unambiguous, we set the standard for dress and enforcement and thereby potentially reduce the opportunity for offense that could occur from a leader acting on their own judgement and possibly offending a youth, her parents, or other leaders. The saddest example I can conceive of is that a leader inappropriately confronts a YW about her dress, offends her and her family, she has a terrible experience at camp, and disassociates herself with the church because nobody ever established agreed upon standards for dress or protocol for how to approach such a situation.

    5) Doing things for the right reasons – Ideally we would encourage the YW to desire to adhere to the dress and appearance standards outlined in the strength of youth out of respect for themselves and their bodies, a recognition of their identity as daughters of God, a desire and willingness to follow the counsel of the Lord’s servants on earth, to live a higher standard of respect and sanctity than our modern day society currently espouses, etc. When we talk about the “why” behind dress standards, it’s probably better to teach the principles found in the strength of youth and camp guide and help the YW understand that they can choose to do this for themselves for the right reasons. It would be wise if we stop fostering the idea that such standards exist purely to protect the feelings of adult men who may be present. And camp leaders would probably do well to stop citing that as any motivation for such standards. That’s not a healthy motivator for young women to choose to respect themselves and their divine worth on this matter.

    6) The YW camp experience. As a father, I’m trying to envision a YW camp where no dress standards apply, and the considerations mentioned above are disregarded. What kind of environment does that provide for my daughter? Is that good for her self esteem? Does it draw her closer to the Savior? Does YW camp become the one time during the year that all the YW can finally cut loose from all those oppressive dress standards the world and the church have? Something doesn’t feel quite right there. I’m having a hard time believing that’s the kind of environment that edifies, perfects, and sanctifies. If camp isn’t the one place where the FSY standards are practiced, then where? Ideally we’d find that ideal balance for dress standards, how we talk about them, and how we enforce them. But I guess if we are going to err, I’d rather err on the side of being over-conservative. (no shorts seems overly conservative).

    So there you go … 6 considerations that appropriate dress codes at camp might be a good thing that hopefully have nothing to do with male oppression. I apologize now for any offenses I’ve caused but we’ve been asked to share our thoughts on these topics in the public space and I feel it’s far too easy to oversimplify the problem and villainize the priesthood leaders to the detriment of our young women, whom I dearly love and respect.

    Putting all of this lesser stuff aside, at the end of the day YW camp is meant to provide the opportunity for the YW to draw closer to their Heavenly Father and their Savior, understand their divine worth and capability, build confidence in themselves, discover they can do hard things, build healthy relationships with one another, feel the presence of the Holy Ghost in their lives. Hopefully our daughters all have that experience regardless of the dress code. And despite my worries about ticks, snakes, scrapes, cuts, etc. Love you all and I truly hope your YW get to wear shorts at camp sometime in the near future … because ours do. 😉

    • Rachel says:

      A few responses to your points…

      1. The OP wrote about how to incorporate safety into the dress code. Are boys told that they can only wear pants at summer camp or are they given choices about what they can wear for each activity? Swimming in a bikini is not more or less safe than swimming in trunks in a lake.

      2. “Of course, the other edge of the sword is that any emphasis on the body, even modesty, can inadvertently exacerbate body image issues and body shaming.” Bingo. That’s all modesty really does. It just teaches girls to focus more on their bodies and how they look to others while judging others for being immodest. Your own words of girls “using their bodies as a platform for display, attention, and competition” are frankly gross. We’re talking about 12-16 year old girls at a girls camp. Don’t talk about their bodies that way. It’s summer time. It’s hot out. Let them wear shorts and tank tops without projecting a sexual gaze on them.

      I’m sure boys also have insecurities about their bodies and compare themselves. Should the boys be required to be completely covered so that they don’t make a self conscious boy feel bad?

      3. Lets just teach kids that it’s normal and healthy to feel sexual attraction for others and that it is their responsibility to handle those feelings appropriately. Doesn’t matter if they’re gay, straight or beyond.

      4. The sad example of a leader confronting a yw at camp or efy or wherever happens all the time. It happened to me as a youth and I participated in it as a youth leader. Instead of having more rigid, universal rules for dress, lets just tell leaders that it’s none of their business and to leave kids alone.

      5. Yeah it would be nice if girls were taught to dress for themselves and not for men. We’re not there yet.

      6. A camp with no dress codes… The only appropriate dress code I can think of is for safety. Sturdy shoes for hiking. Maybe light pants/long sleeves or long socks on hikes to protect from poison ivy, snakes, etc. But I also think shorts and t shirts are fine. Sun screen, bug spray, some hats and you’re good to go!

  12. Julie Moore says:

    Yeah

  1. June 25, 2021

    […] camp season for Latter-day Saint girls, and Exponent II blogger Abby Hansen has some questions about the dress […]

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