I recently attended the GLI reunion in New York, and I had an absolute blast. It was SO great to see the GLI family again. I loved the chance to be silly, and loved being a part of the hug-fest that comes with any GLI event. And, in typical GLI fashion, I left with more than fun memories; I left with a lot to think about.
On the last day of camp last summer, all of us campers sat in a circle and talked about our hopes for the coming year. Almost everyone said something about not wanting to “slip back into old habits” and wanting to stay the more real person they’d become at camp. It stuck out as a really special moment, because we all felt so connected. It was one of the few times that we’d all acknowledged how unique GLI is, and that home is different; that we’re different at home, and that we don’t want to be.
When I went to the reunion, I realized that I had “slipped” since camp. Big time. Being back made me realize how much happier and more real I was at camp and that, in comparison to my camp friends, I don’t feel very close to my friends at home. I’ve known them for longer, I talk to them more often, but I just don’t feel as comfortable being real with them. So what is it about GLI that makes it so much easier to be real? Here’s my take…
1. Today, I’m feeling…
At GLI summer camp, counselors and staff constantly encourage us to express our emotions. For example, we start every morning with a “feelings circle,” during which each girl says how she’s feeling. Sometimes we jazz it up and express feelings in terms of weather conditions or pizza toppings, (ex: “Today, I’m feeling like a pepperoni pizza with grapes and M&Ms”). It can feel pretty corny while we’re doing it, but having the space to express our emotions helps take away our self-consciousness. Girls are generally not so great at expressing emotions, especially negative ones, but the feelings circle empowers us all to be open and candid with each other, which in turn helps us build strong friendships.
Most of my friends at home are very uncomfortable talking about how they’re feeling, and, when I’m with them, I am too. In The Curse of the Good Girl, Rachel Simmons argues that girls feel pressure to be constantly happy, and that as a result, many girls see negative emotions as weakness. When I’m with my friends and I’m feeling less than “happy” or “excited”, I feel self-conscious talking about it. I worry that I’m being too much of a downer, or that I’m monopolizing the conversation. I wind up not telling my friends when I’m upset, they return the “favor” of sparing me from their negative emotions, and the result is a lot of shallow friendships.
2. BUNNY BUNNY BUNNY…
At GLI, we get very, very silly. Simone and the rest of the staff teach us games specifically designed to get us to let out our crazy side. In addition to just being a blast, these games force us to let go of the notion that we have to be “cool” and “mature” all the time and just have fun. After the first few days of camp, the silliness stopped being confined to the games. We started getting silly constantly; we’d sing in the streets, put napkins in our hair, and have dance parties in the mornings. We let go of judgment and went crazy.
Girls can be very concerned about maintaining a “cool” image that being silly doesn’t fit into. In the games, we’re forced to let that go. We’re told that being silly is awesome, and more importantly, that being real is awesome. I think as a result, there’s no social hierarchy at GLI. There really aren’t “cool kids” or “lame kids”. You don’t have to worry so much about being judged for what you say or do; it’s easier to be yourself.
3. “We’re all here for the same reason…”
Another camp moment that really stuck out for me was when our advisory sat together and talked about how much we all wanted to stay in touch during the year. We agreed that it was so great to have people to talk to during the year who attend different schools and are separate from the drama at home. One girl noted that it was so much easier to be around each other and that we all felt so close because “we’re all here for the same reason.”
Maybe more than anything else, I feel more connected to my GLI friends because I know that they also face good girl pressures and are working to better deal with them. I know that many of them have been bullied, or that they’re struggling to be more outgoing and confident. At home, it’s easy for teenagers to think that they’re alone in feeling insecure, lonely or shy. At GLI there’s this unspoken knowledge that we’ve all been through it, and I think that that makes it so much easier to feel comfortable with each other.
Whatever the reason, it’s much easier to be real in a GLI setting, and as 8th grader Taryn notes, it can be “extremely hard to come home”. The challenge is maintaining the realness year round. The most important thing is to remember how we felt at camp and to recognize that it’s possible to get the same feeling at home if we just keep trying. At least, that’s my plan.