I was standing in the kitchen holding my coffee mug as I considered what I needed to do next before I finished the last of the packing for our Campsgiving trip down the coast. Our daughter walked in, assessed my appearance and said, “Mom, I don’t know why, but when you’re wearing your glasses and your hair looks like that, it looks like you’re camping.”
When I walked into our bedroom and told my husband what our daughter had said, he responded with “So basically she said that when you’re not trying, you look like you’re camping.”
The handful of camp-like experiences I had through my childhood did little to prepare me for a husband who grew up camping with his family. I did Girl Scout camp trips in both the summer and winter, but we had cabins and then a lodge and the worst part of the whole experience was going out in the Michigan winter to pee in an outhouse. Then, when we moved to Wyoming, I spent a single weekend tent camping with my small Girl Scout troop. Surrounded by experienced campers, I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to worry about boys seeing me in my natural state. Later, when I went to church camp up in the mountains above Lander, Wyoming, I had full access to bathrooms and showers which allowed me to be prepared for all of the boys, all while grappling with the fact that none of them showed any interest.
My parents eventually took us on two family camping trips. The first was to Michigan where we camped at Ludington State Park with my mom’s whole family. As a middle school girl intent on doing everything possible to cover up out-of-control acne and bad early-90s hair, my Caboodle was my best friend. I carried it to the bathroom every morning and night and did my best to look maturely put together. While I was far from a make-up expert (and in the years since I still am not), I was at least determined to prevent the outside world from seeing me without some kind of beauty treatment.
I spent all of my adolescence and most of my young adulthood painfully aware of my imperfections. I was just a couple pounds too heavy, I never had the right pair of stylish glasses, my hair stuck out in weird places, my legs were too short and thick, and my face wore the evidence of constant pimple outbreaks. In short, no matter how many times my loving boyfriend, eventual husband, told me that I was beautiful, I refused to believe him.
When Jeff convinced me that we should go camping with his sister and her friends just six months before we got married, I eagerly jumped at the chance to spend time in the Rocky Mountains. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I had signed up for. While we had access to bathrooms and showers if necessary, the truth was that my fiance was going to be seeing me at my worst. I had to let go of pretense and allow him to see me as he was going to be seeing me for the rest of our lives, something I was not eager to do.
To say that a single weekend forever changed the way I presented myself to the rest of the world would be a complete lie. Once we were back in “public,” I returned to styled hair and simple make-up before I left the confines of home, whether it was my dorm room or my parents’ house. I just couldn’t grasp the idea that natural was best, and while I respected those who were comfortable doing so, there was no way I was doing it.
But for some reason, since that first weekend trip to the Rockies, camping has been different. For the first couple years I would add my make-up bag to the pile of items I stuffed into our duffle bag, but I gradually stopped using it, even if it came with me. There was something freeing about completely letting go for a whole weekend. It took awhile, but if finally dawned on me that spending time doing my make-up was a waste if I was planning to go for a long hike or go swimming and just ruin all that work. Why worry about my hair if I was just going to put it into a simple ponytail? I wasn’t going to see those specific people at the state park ever again, so what did it matter?
It took me far too long, but I finally learned that it didn’t.
Now, unless I know that we are going to have specific outings that require grooming (like last Memorial Day weekend when I had to leave for a couple hours for graduation), I happily wash my make-up free face every night before crashing into bed. I pull my hair into French braids or ponytails to keep it out of my way. I braid our daughter’s long, blond hair the night before we are to leave and keep it that way for the same reason. I’ve stopped worrying about how I look in family photos of our trips and I’ve chosen to embrace my most natural state while we are on the road.
And apparently, my kids have noticed and they don’t care one bit.
My daughter, who is entering puberty and will be facing beauty pressure from her peers sooner than later, sees that it is ok to embrace the face that nature gave her and that there are times that she can just go au naturale. My son, who in a few short years will be surrounded by adolescent girls unnecessarily enhancing their features, is seeing that his mom feels comfortable in her own skin, or at least that she’s trying.
No, I don’t feel like I can pull an Alicia Keys and go 100% natural all the time, but I’m doing the best I can. Instead of sorting through photos to find the ones in which I look my very best, I’ve started accepting pictures of me enjoying the moment. I’ve concluded that wild animals and mosquitoes don’t care about how I look. And I’ve chosen to listen to my encouraging husband when he pulls me into his arms and calls me beautiful, wrinkles and all.
I’ve learned to at least accept my camp hair and not care what others think, because we all have to start somewhere.
Sarah is a high school English teacher, yearbook adviser, wife to an amazingly supportive husband, and mom to two quickly growing kiddos. When she’s not working to balance life as a working mom, she uses this space to write about the wonderful complexities of life as a wife, mother, and teacher, as well as her family’s camping adventures whenever they can get out of town.
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