Camping as a study in body image and gender

image description: Tracy at the campground in a wide-brimmed sunhat, sunglasses, and an 'active dress,' smiling, pine tree in background.
image description: Tracy at the campground in a wide-brimmed sunhat, sunglasses, and an ‘active dress,’ smiling, pine tree in background.

I went camping on the weekend. It was Canada’s birthday weekend and though it is almost always hot on the July 1 long weekend, it isn’t always quite THIS hot. Saturday was in the 30s Celsius with a Humidex (“feels like”) reading of 45C. That’s pretty much unheard of around here in Southwestern Ontario.

With temperatures like that you would expect people to wear as little clothing as they can get away with. Swimsuits maybe? We were camping after all. Shortly into the hellish heat of Saturday, I observed that many more men than women were dressed in ways that expressed body acceptance, and that the children were the most comfortable in their skins than most of the adults.

What criteria did I use to draw my conclusion? Firstly, let’s talk about the kids. Swimsuits, sometimes only the bottoms, and sheer joy in the splash pad or in the lake or on the slip and slide thing or in the wading pool or running through the sprinkler. The kids had zero self-consciousness about their bodies.

Second, the men. I hate to generalize along gender lines because there are always exceptions. But many men felt perfectly at ease with their shirts off in the heat of the day. And that was appropriate to the temperature, even if you were in the shade.

Finally, the women. It’s a very common sight at beaches and swimming pools to see women with big towels wrapped around themselves until the moment they get into the water and back around them the moment they get out. It was no different at the campground. That is, if they wore a swimsuit at all. Few women wore two piece swimsuits that weren’t tankinis.

I understand feeling body conscious. I felt it myself, debating long and hard whether to wear a regular bikini top or a tankini (I went for the bikini top).

I don’t begrudge men their comfort with their bodies. But it has always been a mild source of resentment for me that there is a larger range of body types with which men can be comfortable as opposed to the range of body types for women. Now, of course, it’s always up to anyone to say “screw the normative standards of what constitutes ‘acceptable appearance.'” But even if you disagree, for many it’s still a lot of work to challenge those standards. And so we end up with men baring their chests on a really hot day while women stay covered up, either with clothing, tankinis and one-piece swimsuits, or towels.

There is something unfair about that, and it really became clear to me on the weekend.

Have you noticed this too?

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