At this summer camp, no one will be shooting arrows, riding horses, or throwing pottery. When it's "salon camp," days are filled with facials, mani-pedis, hairstyling, and makeup.
The seven girls enrolled in this one-week camp, held throughout the summer in the air-conditioned confines of the Hairs to You Salon in Bala Cynwyd, are loving the lessons from the pros and practicing on one another. No one here aspires to be a cosmetologist, but getting the skinny on tween and teen pastimes such as pampering and makeovers is a dress-up dream for the campers.
"Now I've got to exfoliate your feet," says Claire Szapary, 13, of Wynnewood, to her friend, Emma Verges, 13. Claire puts cream on a foot file as salon owner and instructor Paige Lewis has just demonstrated, and rubs Emma's feet. Emma cannot stop herself from giggling.
This is the fifth year since Bala Cynwyd-based Lavner Camps began, but the first time it has offered a salon camp, says owner Justin Lavner, 30. The cost for the camp, offered to kids ages 9 to 15, rings in at $360.
He was turned on to the idea after learning of the recent YouTube phenomenon of girls posting videos asking the world whether they're pretty. Some of the viewer comments posted underneath the videos, Lavner said, made fun of the girls for how they wore makeup, so he decided a camp could teach them how to use cosmetics properly. More important, he wanted the sessions to help girls feel good about mastering makeup — with their parents' permission, of course. He pointedly did not name it "beauty camp," because he did not want them to leave with the lesson that hairstyles, nail polish, and cosmetics define beauty.
He didn't have to worry: This first group of salon campers said they already knew that. They also believed they were too young to wear makeup other than, maybe, in a school play.
How a girls acts — for instance, if she is nice and welcoming, the campers say — is a better gauge of beauty.
"I don't think any girls need to wear makeup," says Emily Fogel, 13, of Wynnewood. "I know lots of girls who are pretty who don't wear makeup." She also knows girls who wear makeup and look really bad. "Some people put on so much, they look like raccoons."
Ten-year-old Nicole Loonstyn of Bala Cynwyd says one girl at her school did not look good in the eye shadow she applied for a concert.
"It looked like glitter threw up all over," she says.
Karima Roepel runs a girls' self-esteem program in Philadelphia called Camp C.A.Y.A. (Come As You Are), for middle schoolers through early college age. Self-esteem doesn't come from lipstick or blush. Still, giving girls knowledge is always a good thing.
"You shouldn't look like a clown going to school, but if you're in a play — it's appropriateness. Help them make wiser decisions as they get older," says Roepel, 38.
Knowledge and self-esteem are far from these girls' minds. They are at the salon because styling hair, polishing their nails, and putting on cosmetics is fun.
On the first day of camp, the girls learn how to make a facial treatment. They choose from banana, strawberry, oatmeal, yogurt, and honey — strawberry and yogurt being the most popular. The girls say they must look funny, but they aren't sure.
"It's fun but a bit awkward," Emily says of the facial, "because you feel like everyone's staring at you but you can't see anything because you have cucumbers on your eyes."
When they give each other manicures and pedicures the next day, they chat and laugh their way through exfoliation, massaging, and putting on nail polish. Most of the girls have one foot soaking in a tub, and the other resting on their partner's knee for a pedicure. One camper, Hannah Lipschutz, 10, of Bala Cynwyd, needs a closer look, and crouches down on the floor to get the best pedi-perspective.
Most girls laugh even louder as some use flat irons and curling irons (depending on whether they want to straighten their hair or make it wavy), and then create updos and braids. There are no bee stings at salon camp, but there is one small burn from a hot iron.
"When you do your own hair, you want to do really small sections" at a time, Lewis says. To Claire, whose long hair falls at least 22 inches from the top of her head (she has measured it), the sectioning is intimidating. But she doesn't hesitate to pick up hair clips and start separating strands, which she wraps around the curling iron.
Before the week is done, they will get that cosmetics-application lesson, and Lewis will have taught them about types of hair (including swimmer's hair) and hair products. They will invite a guest for a makeover day — which might as well be called mom-mirth day because most are asking their mothers — and the girls will go home with a goody bag filled with comb, clips, and other salon supplies.
Hopefully, they will leave with enough knowledge so that when they do wear makeup one day, they won't look like glitter threw up all over.