Opinion | An Ode to the Bik: Using a Shared Shower At Sleepaway Camp

By Sarah Liez, Staff Columnist

From the ages of nine to 15, I spent my summers at one of my favorite places in the world — Camp Galil. This sleepaway camp, being part of a global youth movement that stands for labor Zionism, Judaism and social justice, was a progressive, nonconformist utopia-of-sorts where the normal rules of conventional society did not apply. One of these unspoken elements was that we did not have to feel ashamed about our bodies.

Like many sleepaway camps, there is a large bathhouse. While the younger campers most often lived in cabins with bathrooms, the older ones did not — we had “the Bik” where the shower, toilet and sink were all located.

There was one controversial element of the Bik — its shower room. The large, tiled room had no curtains or dividers, and eight showerheads attached to the walls.

When I first used the Bik at age 12, I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable. For the first week, my peers and I showered in our bathing suits, too afraid and insecure to expose ourselves to each other. Though gradually, as we showered with older campers and counselors who seemed so comfortable in their bodies, we grew more comfortable ourselves.

Soon, we began showering just as we would at home.

When we went home at the end of the summer, I remember feeling lonely during each shower I took. I missed talking with friends, asking questions about our bodies and simply feeling so at ease in my own skin.

While the idea of a shared shower can be daunting, using the Bik truly shaped my understanding of my body in the best ways.

One major component of using the Bik was the realistic expectations it set for how a body could look. When I first started showering in the Bik, my body began going through puberty. Hormones charged through my body at what seemed like a slower rate than many of my peers. I felt so insecure and alone, comparing my body to everyone else’s and wondering when I would start to look like them.

This anxiety only worsened when I was around some of my male peers, who would make snide remarks about every woman’s body in the premises. They objectified nearly everyone with a vagina. This always made me wonder — what were they saying about me when I wasn’t around? Were they critiquing me on my lack of breasts, how skinny I was, how flat?

The portrayal of women in the media amplified the tension I felt with my body. We are constantly surrounded by images of the idealized female body — slim, beautiful women with perfect skin and hourglass figures. Although we may recognize how movies, shows, magazines and advertisements set unrealistic expectations for women, it is much harder to resist the idea that this is what your body is meant to look like.

It’s even more difficult to stop comparing yourself to these women. To be afraid that, no matter how hard you try or how much your body changes, you will never look like them.

This fear washed away when I showered in the Bik. I would take a look at the girls around me and notice all of our similarities and differences. Everyone had a different manner of grooming their body hair — some girls shaved everything, some shaved to a certain degree and some did not shave at all. Some of us had larger boobs, some smaller and some none at all.

Everyone looked different. It made looking different feel normal.

There is something inherently shameful about existing in the female body. Society is constantly telling you what to do with yourself. What makeup to put on your face to look prettier. What parts of yourself to shave or else appear gross. How to hide your period or else feel embarrassed.

In the Bik, there was no shame. You could do whatever you wanted with your body, and no one would judge you. You could ask questions about yourself and your body and receive validation and knowledge instead of humiliation.

Being naked, existing in your bare skin with nothing to hide behind, was refreshing. The Bik was a safe, secure space — a crucial foundation off of which I formed a healthy relationship with my body.

Today, media portrayals of women, fictional and factual, are starting to change. The Netflix cartoon “Big Mouth” aired an episode titled “What Is It About Boobs?” in which the female characters — upon noticing a peer’s change in breast size and the boys’ consequential reactions — grow very insecure about their bodies. In order to create a healthier sense of self image, main characters Missy and Jessi are brought to an all-women’s sauna. There, they witness a multitude of unclothed women enjoying the spa, all of whom have a variety of flaws and yet are confident in their naked vulnerability.

Seeing these older women be so unashamed of their physical imperfections, Missy and Jessi learn to embrace their physiques and become more comfortable in their bodies. It was almost a direct reflection of what I experienced at camp.

Exposure to a variety of realistic bodies provides young girls with realistic expectations about their own bodies. It teaches them to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. If people around you feel safe to share their bodies, secure in their own insecurities and unafraid to bare their hair, wrinkles and cellulite, then you can, too.

The Bik was a safe space and a pinnacle of body positivity. Although there should certainly be alternative shower options for people who don’t feel comfortable exposing themselves in front of their peers, a shared shower room can act as an excellent place to foster confidence and comfort in your body, especially for impressionable young girls who have a long way to go on the path to liking their own bodies.

For girls like the one I used to be.

Sarah Liez writes primarily about gender issues and social phenomena. Write to her at [email protected].