Managing hair while away at sleep-over summer camp can cause angst. It did for me. The summer of 1976 I attended Camp Wathana’s two-week camp program, in Holly, Michigan. A subsidiary of the Camp Fire Girls of America, I looked forward to going even though none of the girls from my troop (all black) would be attending. In fact, there were hardly any black girls that summer and I was solo in my cabin.
In preparation for camp, my hair was in french braids. I was sent to camp with instructions to shampoo my hair as soon I finished swimming each day, and to oil my scalp with the peach hair food enclosed in my toiletry bag before going to sleep.
That small jar of hair oil that read “food” sent my white cabin mates into a laughing hysteria. “She has to feed her hair. Bwhahhhaaaaaa!” At the time I didn’t have the vocabulary to tell them that their hair was naturally full of oil, so much so that they had to shampoo daily, and that mine was not.
We were not on the level where they would have understood anyway. I felt ganged up on and different, for being different. They didn’t have the power to make me feel bad about my hair. I knew even as a pre-teen that my hair was special. They couldn’t wear the intricate hair design that had been lovingly put in place. Instead they paired off and brushed each others tresses in efforts to rid them of kinks earned from swimming.
I was cool with that. They had their thing and I had mine.
If your daughter, niece, cousin, or younger sister is heading out to camp this summer, chances are she won’t be the only black girl assigned to a cabin full of white girls. Make sure she is prepared with hair grooming products. It will help her manage, as most camp stores won’t include our products on their shelves.
Telling her that she and her hair are beautiful can help ease feelings about attending camp and having to survive on her own. She is sure to return home with stories that help develop critical thinking skills as she maneuvers her way through different cultures and girls from backgrounds that vary from hers. Camp and hair grooming are part of the process that allow her to see herself as a beautiful black girl. Encourage her to realize her unique beauty so she can handle camp jokesters and others, with confidence.