2000s Archive

Free to Be Me

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The girls in Anne's bunk decide to give me the real scoop. They are all 10 or 11 years old, full of energy, and anxious to chat about anything and everything as they put on their costumes and show off their bodies to one another. "I have more rolls than a bakery!" quips Gwen, stuffing her legs into a pair of red tights that belong to a chum. Gwen will be a devil this evening. "We hear the best fat jokes," she adds, repeating a few, which elicit no laughter from the others. Anne is dressing as a white rabbit with big ears, a fluffy tail, and a slinky, sleeveless tunic. "I'm cuddly," she whispers seductively, giving herself a hug. "But I'd never wear anything without sleeves at home," she notes, pinching the flab under her arm.

"Me neither," says Jessie, who is putting on a revealing halter top. "I would get teased big time for this shirt. People call me Fatty. But I'm going to lose twenty pounds this summer." Jessie is transforming herself into a princess.

"I didn't want to come here at first, because I thought they would starve us," Sara chimes in. "But then we had Boston cream pie for dessert!" Sara tells me that she has bouts of depression. "Being overweight is horrible. I worry too much and think bad thoughts," she explains. The other girls nod. They all speak the same language.

They are definitely unanimous about their favorite camp event, a Kingsmont tradition known as Beauty List. One night every summer, each cabin selects one camper and one counselor, whom they dress up in drag to compete in a "beauty" contest. "We dressed up Luke in my pink underwear and now he won't give it back," giggles Gwen. A few parents called in to protest; the kids, on the other hand, want to do it again. In this topsy-turvy charade, fantasies are freely expressed as the sexes get mixed up, dressed up, and flaunted.

The more time I spend at Kingsmont, the more I realize that most activities lead to a physical, even sensuous, experience of the body, where the kids eagerly explore their own adolescent desires. Or, in Anne's words, "There are really nice boys here. They're not like the boys at home." What are the boys like at home? "They're conceited, mean, and skinny," she says. Her buddies seem to know the same boys in their hometowns.

Kingsmont is synonymous with a freedom that these kids do not enjoy the rest of the year. "It's a safe haven," says Gertz. "These kids come here summer after summer because they only get to be themselves for two months out of the year. They have two months to do all their touching."

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