And after the campfire singalong? Chemical peels!

"Spa summer camps" teach middle-school girls the enduring lessons of avocado masks and ginger foot scrubs.

Published August 25, 2008 2:05PM (EDT)

I never did get to go to summer camp. Other girls ventured off to the far reaches of Texas, to Colorado, to the Northeast -- learned strapping, old-fashioned tasks like archery and hiking, things they never bother to teach you amid the humiliations of gym class -- and upon their triumphant return, I always envied their strappy tan lines, their hard-won freckles. Camp seemed to be a much-needed break -- from parents, from friends, from the same old, same old of your hometown, but also from the crushing social pressures of suburban middle school. To be popular and thin and pretty and have the right label afixed to your jeans.

And so it is with some sadness that I read a San Francisco Chronicle story about new spa camps where girls were trained in the specifics of spas and beauty: The group of affluent middle-school girls learned "about the benefits of footbaths with warm water, lavender and sea salt; honey, sea salt and ground ginger foot scrub; and foot massages with olive oil and avocado paste. Manicures followed on Tuesday, lessons on sunscreen on Wednesday, yoga and meditation on Thursday, and more massage treatments -- for anyone the girls wanted to bring in and practice their new skills on -- on Friday."

Don't get me wrong; I would have loved this as a kid. I also once tried to wear a sequined leotard to school. Sometimes the things 10-year-old girls want run in opposition to their best interests. The truly odious part, then, is how this vanity parade is being dressed up in the name of (you guessed it!) self-esteem: "This camp is about simple things we can do to make ourselves feel good," says the camp's owner. Right! Like ground ginger foot scrub! They're 10.

It's hard to find a drag queen who loves dressing up more than I do. But one of the wonderful things about childhood is not worrying about what you look like when you're with your friends. Getting in the mud, running until you fall down and your knees are scabbed, never brushing your hair. It's like a rite of childhood. And unlike this frivolous high-dollar camp, it's totally free.

By Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

MORE FROM Sarah Hepola

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Love And Sex