Summer camp bans all 'body-talk'

Goal is to shift campers' focus away from physical appearance

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It's a camp rule that's become a hot topic among some parents and healthcare providers: Eden Village, a Jewish summer camp situated on an organic farm in Putnam Valley, New York, has a no "body-talk" policy.

Campers and counselors are forbidden from discussing physical appearance, of themselves or others, including clothing.  It doesn't matter whether the commentary is positive, negative or neutral.  It's all in an effort to detract attention from body image.  A Quaker camp in Vermont has the same policy.

"It does require a certain amount of self-awareness, that you think about things you are going to say and you have to have impulse control," said Carolyn Levers-Landis, Ph.D., a child psychologist at University Hospital's Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

But, even so, she questions its effectiveness. "Even as an adult, thinking about this concept of someone's appearance, or even my own, it makes you more aware."

The Eden Village's co-founder and co-director Vivian Stadlin says banning body talk creates a safe zone where "a primary source of insecurity and subtle cruelty is simply off the table."

Eden Village's website notes that there's still plenty of room for discussion, "The temporary respite from all the body commentary, together with our sessions and informal conversations on body image, helps create a space that naturally fosters breakthrough sharing and insight - about how one feels about one's own body or the pressure one might feel to look a certain way."

The camp says campers have embraced the rule, writing: "Our campers tend to champion the guideline among themselves after a few days of getting used to it in their first year."

But Dr. Landis says this doesn't replicate the real world and doesn't help children address other sources of camp tension, like competitive games.

"If you're struggling with something about your body, you need to be able to share that with someone. It shouldn't be this taboo subject," said Landis.

She also questions taking positive comments out of the conversation. "I think it would be kind of sad if, in society, we made a rule that we're never going to comment positively on each other."

So why moratorium on compliments?  After all, aren't compliments generally considered complimentary?   According to the camp's website, "Physical compliments are still judgments on our appearance. This time the verdict was positive; next time it might not be. The scrutiny adds pressure on me to provide an encore, to spend time grooming my hair tomorrow too, so as to continue receiving approval."

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