The boa plays an important role in the day-to-day lives of Girls Leadership Institute (GLI) campers. Most days, if you take a quick peek around camp, you’ll see a girl rocking one: an absurdly brightly colored boa wrapped twice around her neck, or her waist, or her head, shedding feathers everywhere, with her head held high. This is her reminder that she is GLI’s fierce, fabulous female of the day.
When I was a GLI camper, both as a rising freshman and later a senior in high school, our morning circle always ended with an announcement of the Fierce Fabulous Female (FFF) award. Our counselors would start the ritual by pulling out a boa and talking about how well one of my fellow campers was doing.
“This fierce, fabulous female took so many risks at the ropes course, pushed herself out of her comfort zone by volunteering to go on the giant’s ladder, and even though she was scared, went all the way to the top of 60-foot swing and let go!”
“This fierce, fabulous female has so much bravery in workshop. She shared her inside feelings and was honest with her fellow campers, and helped to make other girls feel comfortable sharing their feelings, too.”
The counselor would then announce the girl’s name, and she would be congratulated with copious shouting, clapping, hugs, and the chance to wear the boa around all day.
The shout-out was a small gesture that made a huge difference in that FFF’s day. GLI camp is endless fun, but it can also be hard work. As a camper, GLI girls are constantly encouraged to ask big questions of themselves, questions that almost never come into play outside of camp.
“Are all my friends honestly supportive of me?”
“Do I share my feelings and stand up for myself when I feel wronged?”
“Am I able to receive criticism without thinking I’m a bad person?”
Campers are constantly being asked to push themselves out of their comfort zones, taking risks at the ropes course, making insane, loud, silly noises during games, and making new connections with fellow campers. This stuff is not easy! So the encouragement of a counselor saying, “I see how hard you’re working, and it’s making a difference,” is massive and important.
At GLI, one thing is for sure: everyone is a fierce, fabulous female. When I came back to camp years later as a Residential Counselor, we as a staff always tried to remind our campers of their authentic leadership. It turns out to be an incredible challenge. We considered the dorm to be a practice ground for all the new skills that the campers were learning in workshop, like conflict negotiation and confidence in relationships. So, one of our most important jobs as a staff members living in the dorm, was to cultivate an environment where girls would feel comfortable being confident.
Camp is full of fierce, fabulous moments, but it’s difficult for many girls to own them as such. Girls in middle and high school are not taught to talk themselves up, so when we asked the girls tell us one thing they were good at (in exchange for, perhaps, more chips to play blackjack, or entrance into an ice cream party), it could take a while to get an answer. A common answer to the question would involve perhaps a minute of dancing around the question, and then naming a particular skill that they have – I’m good at tennis; I can sing.
With practice, girls eventually open up with a level of emotional honesty, and unabashed enthusiasm, that constantly impressed me as a counselor. And the campers are certainly impressed with each other – they cheer each other on constantly, and zip through writing love notes, letters of encouragement and acknowledgement, to all of their fellow campers far before the end of their session. But owning their own talents takes so much courage, and it’s a muscle that many girls aren’t used to flexing. This is where the boa comes in.
Our goal with FFF is to make girls remember how well they’re doing at a tough exercise. Receiving a boa is a way for them to own their awesome attributes that day. We want to give the FFF award to the girls who need a little encouragement calling themselves out on their awesome. Donning a brightly colored boa in the morning, it’s difficult to forget that you’re doing great work at camp, and that you’re working hard to be emotionally honest, brave, and confident. Leaving camp, it’s hard sometimes to maintain the high level of confidence that the GLI community can provide. But with FFF, campers have practiced counting their achievements and wearing them proudly.
I still have my bright blue feather boa twisted around my headboard at home, for when I need that boost.