Fashion Camp for Pre-teen Girls Draws Outcry in Northern Israel

Residents of a Jezreel Valley community say the camp, which offers a model’s portfolio for every participant, is an affront to women.

An illustrative photo of Israeli girls at summer camp.
Tomer Appelbaum

Parents in the rural communities of Jezreel Valley were furious to discover that the regional council’s summer camp for junior-high and high school girls consists of fashion and beauty activities, including the production of a model’s portfolio for every participant.

The Itzuvim (designs) camp brochure lists activities such as graphic design, a photography workshop and designing your own cloth bag. But girls can also take part in workshops to “design personal style, image and appearance,” “upgrade your personal wardrobe,” “learn your body structure, match colors, cuts and fabrics,” hair design, make-up techniques for morning, evening and “artistic’ styles,” and “creating a personal artistic, original model’s portfolio for every participant.”

“It’s an insult to women, we’re lucky they didn’t send them to a dish-washing workshop,” says Ravit Hanoch, of the communal settlement of Timrat.

In contrast, the council offers children who have completed grades 3 through 7, summer camps focusing on movement, drama, theater, cinema and radio music. Students of grades 3 and 4 can go to a camp called “The freedom to choose,” which consists of a variety of activities, while graduates of grades 9-11 can opt for a camp focusing on raft-building.

“I don’t see myself as a feminist but to me this is like returning the girls to the Stone Age,” says Yael Sotto, a designer from Timrat, who sent a letter of protest to the official in charge of summer camps and to the council head.

“I think it’s terrible that this should happen in a council that prides itself on raising ‘salt of the earth’ youngsters and boasts about being different and educational,” she says.

Sotto says in her letter she was appalled to see the camp activities. “Is this what the council sees fit to teach its 11-year-old girls? The importance of grooming their hands? Make-up techniques for morning and evening? How to use a hair dryer and curler? Upgrading their personal wardrobe? And all part of the national program for a healthy, active life.”

The council’s summer camp director replied that “the program is professional and consists of various design workshops. The main part of the program is meeting professionals who are experts in the various fields.”

The letter, listing the experts, says the “hand, hair and make-up workshops you mentioned aren’t the major part of the program and perhaps next time we’ll reduce their scope in the brochures. Butthese are valuable instruction meetings in issues the girls deal with anyway. In the program they’ll receive do and don’t instructions and professional guidance.”

The letter also says the program has been held successfully for the past five years. But council residents say in the first years the emphasis was on design, not on personal appearance.

Shlomit Shihor with her daughter, Shir Reichman, at their home in Timrat.
Gil Eliahu

“I see this as going as low as possible,” says Sotto,. If it was a private summer school she wouldn’t mind, she adds, but this is the only one for girls of this age. Another organization involved in the camp is Efsharibari – a national program for healthy and active living launched by the health, culture and sport and education ministries.

But Haaretz found that the ministries have stopped funding this program and only the council is paying for it.

Orly Proter of Timrat, mother of four girls, one of whom will enter 8th grade next year, said her daughter won’t go to the summer camp. “I’m very sad they’re offering young girls a camp whose agenda is to turn them into empty women who deal with vapid, trivial concerns” she says.

What reason is there for an 11-year-old to learn about day and night make-up or for a 12- year-old to study the importance of grooming hands, she asks.

Hila Tuchmacher Mishali, whose daughter is completing 7th grade at Kibbutz Sarid, said she didn’t even show her daughter the brochure. “Obviously it wasn’t done with malice but due to ignorance,” she says. “We must see what to offer children without reducing boys and girls to traditional roles – girls must be well groomed and boys must be pilots and soccer players.”

Shlomit Shihor, of Timrat, mother of a girl in third grade and a 4-year-old boy, said she doesn’t want her daughter to get this kind of education in the future. “I don’t think it’s right to separate boys and girls anyway. If they want to have a summer camp about art it’s great, and can be done in a way that doesn’t objectify girls or channel them to focus on grooming their appearance and beauty,” she says.

“These aren’t the values we want to teach our children. There must be egalitarian education for both sexes that focuses less on appearances and more on the amazing environment we live in I’d expect the informal education the council offers to be in keeping with these values,” she says.

Hanoch says sixth grade boys can go to a sports camp, “while a girl is taught how to choose clothes that suit her body structure. Why don’t they call it anorexia and be done with it?”

“They’ll say the girls are there already, so they may as well tell them how to do it right,” says Sotto cynically. “I’d like to see how a slightly overweight girl deals with upgrading her personal wardrobe.”

Shiri Katz, who lives in the Ramat David Airbase, said she was shocked by the brochure. “The valley is proud of its history and legacy and its unique assets – Nahalal, the first moshav, Timrat, the first communal settlement, Hannah Senesh, and other cultural icons,” she said, citing the heroine who parachuted into enemy territory during World War II — and used to train in the Jezreel Valley. “This is what you have to teach your girls? Manicure and hair curling?”

The council said that “following the letter, the camp’s contents will be reexamined.”