The body talk guideline is part of Eden Village’s larger culture, which is designed not as a retreat from the “real world” but as a training ground to let our kids and teens step more powerfully into the world – with more consciousness, sense of self-worth, empathy and tools for making social change.

At first, the guideline feels weird – campers (and staff!) realize how ingrained body talk is and catch themselves a lot. Campers’ tongue-in-cheek compliments, like saying “Your soul shines” when someone is looking particularly spiffy, are part of acknowledging the urge to give physical compliments. Some kids tell us that early in, they spend time wondering what people would be saying about their bodies. We have conversation circles and informal check-ins as needed to address the body image issues that come up for people, and explore the urge to give and receive body commentary. Within a few days, these impulses generally fade significantly. Bunk groups and individuals often start parading around in costumes, capes, face paint, outrageous outfits. Each cabin has its own flavor. (The signs over the mirrors mentioned in the New York Times article – “Don’t check your appearance; check your soul” – was one counselor’s initiative in her bunk, not a camp-wide slogan.) We have fun!

The vast majority of campers come to either treasure this guideline, or just kind of forget about it as not a big deal – just a small aspect of this supportive, healthy-living-focused community.

Once they’ve been here a few days, many campers, especially our teen girls, feel relief and sometimes grief at having put down a heavy pack they hadn’t necessarily realized they were carrying. They see in stark contrast all that they’ve gone through in school, all the distorted messages taken in. There’s healing that comes from recognizing this. From there, they get playful and silly. They take joy in doing “love pranks” (surprises to make others’ lives more wonderful), working on projects that light them up, painting signs with empowering slogans to post around camp, etc. They end up forming some of the deepest bonds of their lives.

It is a privilege to see hundreds of campers transmitting to each other the message of simple self-acceptance.

Campers, parents and staffers regularly tell us the guideline has been a major positive force in their lives. A handful of campers have started body talk awareness campaigns in their schools, complete with posters and Facebook page, and a few have started anti-bullying clubs.