“The only mirror in camp is in the director cabin,” I overheard one of my camp directors say when I arrived at my summer job as a camp counselor earlier this year.
This was no big surprise: my job is a three-month stint traveling throughout rural Alaska bringing weekly camps to local girls. Furthermore, a life without mirrors – albeit temporary – is nothing new to me.
I was 15 years old, working my first camp counselor job, when I first considered how freeing it was to stop primping in front of a mirror, making sure everything looks just right. It’s a realization that I believe to have happened at a very opportune and influential time in my life.
Fast forward four years and I still find that same feeling of freedom. I relish waking up each day, throwing on some clothes, brushing my hair into a ponytail and heading out for the day. Plus, my five minute “beauty” routine means an extra half hour or more of sleep!
The freedom from pressures on appearance is something that I believe many young women never really feel. For most – including myself during my “regular” school life – we tuck and curl and smooth and apply. It’s what we expect from ourselves and each other, and what society expects from us. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but neither is letting it go for a while.
Here in Alaska, each week I connect with a new group of girls, ranging from as young as four up to 11 or 12 years old. The younger ones aren’t usually concerned about their appearances but adolescent and teen girls are conditioned to care, and care deeply.
At one camp location, my co-counselor and I covered the mirrors with posters. On the first day a camper asked me why we covered up the mirrors and I got the privilege to respond with “because we don’t have to worry about our appearances at camp.”
That was when it clicked for me, when I realized the power behind not having mirrors. In a world where appearances matter, having a break from the pressure is special. It reminded me that the most amazing moments can happen with a messy ponytail and paint on your face.