Camp Camelot



Long Island, New York

Neighborhood: Long Island

When I was fifteen years old I went to Camp Camelot, a romantic name for a Fat Camp.

My family had always called me “big boned.” My classmates had other terms for me, and they certainly were not half as nice. In my elementary school gym class there was one record used for special occasions to humiliate the fat kids and all the songs had to do with being fat. I still cringe when I think of it. One song that stands out in my mind is: “You can have her, I don’t want her, she’s too fat for me.” I would be singled out along with the other fatties while we were forced to do extra sit ups and leg lifts for our own good.

Although genes had a hand in my corpulence, I loved food more than the average person, and I have always been one of those people who lives to eat. I have been a chocoholic since early childhood, a habit that started in front of the television set of my parents house. I’d wake up early to watch cartoons and eat as many Ring-Dings and Devil Dogs as I could get my hands on before anybody woke up to bust me. I would hide the boxes under my bed until Sunday night when it was my turn to empty the trash.

When I shed my “baby fat,” at the age of fourteen, I shattered all the bones in my right ankle while roller-skating. The break was so severe that I was in a hip cast for over six months and then several subsequent smaller casts; this ordeal lasted for close to a year. My orthopedist told me it was the worst break he had ever seen in his 40-year career and he prepared me for the worst–the possibility I would have a permanent limp. As luck would have it, I grew another two inches and the bones were able to bond together nicely. My big bones cooperated for once, but I was now bigger boned than ever and I had gained over 40 pounds from being sedentary for over a year. I was miserable and my parents felt sorry for me. They blamed themselves for the rusty old roller-skates I was wearing the day I broke my ankle and I did nothing to alleviate their guilt.

When I first saw an ad in the New York Times Magazine for Camp Camelot, I laughed about the prospect of going to a fat camp. After repeatedly looking at the picture of the obese girl in the “before” photo to a bikini-clad babe in the “after” photo, I changed my mind. This could be the answer to my problems. I too could be a bikini- clad beach bunny after only six weeks of Fat Camp. Sure, it might sound humiliating, but only my closest friends and relatives had to know. It would be well worth it in the end.

I showed the advertisement to my mother and made it clear that I was going to harass her about it for as long as it took. After a few days when she told me that she and my father had agreed to let me go, I was shocked, but ecstatic. I began packing immediately.

Camp Camelot was located on the campus of Southampton College in Long Island, New York during the months of July and August. Summer school students were attending Southampton College during this time, but their dorm rooms were on the other side of campus. The staff tried to make us wear the distinctive T-shirts with the Camelot insignia to distinguish us from them, even though it was pretty obvious who was who. (Although not everyone there was morbidly obese, some of us could pass for having gained the freshman forty.)

Upon arrival, the counselors arranged a “before” photo of me. The photographer had me stand on a table in my bathing suit and shot the picture of me from below. I had never photographed well in a bathing suit, but I had never seen a picture that was so unflattering. I looked like the fat lady in the circus.

My roommate was Sherri Schwartz and she had the face of an angel and the mouth of a truck driver. The first thing she said to me was that if she was as @#$%^& thin as I was she wouldn’t be there. She smoked cigarettes and had an evil streak and I liked her right away. I decided she was to be my lifelong friend. After a long night of bonding with Sherri, I assumed we would sleep until noon and join an exercise class at our leisure, if we felt like it. I was wrong.

The pounding on our door nearly gave me a heart attack, and it was only 7:00 a.m.! We were ordered to put on our Camp Camelot T-shirts and sweatpants and meet on the track in ten minutes.

They made us run around the track until we were hyperventilating, which took only once for most of the campers. I was able to make it twice before being winded; this was the first time my athletic abilities appeared better than average. Camp Camelot was also the first (and only) experience I had ever encountered where people came up to tell me how thin I was. The staff at Camelot consisted of a handful of ex-cheerleaders who seemed to enjoy being around overweight young women with low self-esteem, if only to relive the superiority they had once treasured in high school. More than once I saw them laughing at students too fat to get into the lotus position at 10:00 a.m. yoga.

Breakfast consisted of one tiny box of cereal. That was the biggest meal of the day. For lunch we were served an appetizer–a small cube of Swiss cheese and two pieces of melba toast on a piece of wilted lettuce and a few grapes for garnish. The first day there I was shocked to find that it was the entire meal! This routine made Weight Watchers look like child’s play. After lunch we were escorted to disco aerobics class for an excruciating hour and a half of jumping up and down to Donna Summer. Then we had to jog around the track until we dropped and finally, we were allowed to go to the beach for two hours before heading back on the bus for dinner. I thought surely there would be something substantial for dinner like a baked potato or a piece of bread, something to sink my teeth into. No such luck. The menu was similar to lunch, but we did get an apple for dessert.

A shuttle bus took the summer college students into the center of town. Sherri and I easily passed as students once we took off the Camelot garb. One Wednesday afternoon, we’d had it and decided to cut disco aerobics and get ourselves a decent meal. I will never forget that slice of pizza. I devoured it faster than anything I had ever eaten in my entire life.

Our next stop was to the candy store to pick up some chocolate. I jokingly said to Sherri that if we were to sell chocolate in the camp we could make a fortune and she immediately made me give her all my money. We bought twenty Hershey bars and stuffed them in our bags and headed back to Camelot. The response to the chocolate was overwhelming. We didn’t have enough to satisfy our customers, and it was no wonder, considering that everyone was practically starving. There was this one girl named Sally that didn’t have any money and wanted us to give her the chocolate for free and we practically had to rip her fat little hands off of the merchandise. I’m sure she told on us, although I can’t be positive.

Our parents were called in to deal with our punishment. I would rather have cleaned the toilets with my toothbrush than deal with my parents. The guilt that I had cultivated at home was now gone due to the exorbitant price they charged at Camp Camelot. All the months of my limping around the house were now history. They had paid their price. They gave me the “disappointed” speech and that was it. Sherri and I were to be put on probation, and that was fine with us. We didn’t want the stigma of getting thrown out of Fat Camp. Sherri and I grew apart after the “chocolate incident” and blamed each other for bad judgment.

When it was time to leave Camelot they took an “after” picture of me where the photographer stood about a mile away so you can’t really tell who it is, but it’s a much more flattering picture than the “before”. Whenever I need a good laugh I look at my before and after pictures while eating a big chocolate bar and think of Camelot.

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§ 22 Responses to “Camp Camelot”

  • Tere says:

    Hi! My Nme is Tere, im from Mexico city, i am 44 years old, When i was 15 years old my father send me to Camp Camelot in Saouthampton College, When i read this asticle i was laughing so much because its true, we were starving!!!! i wish i could have contact with the girls that i mete there could you help me find them???

  • Johna Holmes says:

    Great article. I also went there as a kid. I used to sneak candy bars in school and goats.

  • Marilyn Attia says:

    I also went there in 1977 I was 19, yes everything in the article is true. We would walk all the way to town and buy fresh homemade ice cream. What memories, I am still in touch with my roomate but would love to get in touch with my other suite mates .

  • Beth Bachausen says:

    I was the waterfront director in MA in the summer of 76. It was a great summer- would love to get in touch with former “campers”. Remember Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle?
    The meals were actually really good and I was not a former cheerleader but rather I understood and was on the same diet as the rest.

  • tricia says:

    i remeber tinkerbelle!!!

    i went summer of 1976 to gordon college in mass and

    summer of 1978 to southhampton.


  • Becky says:

    I went to Camp Camelot in 1980 at the Whittier College campus in California

  • Rebecca RODGERS says:

    I went to Camp Camelot in 2001 at their site at Millersville University in Pennsylvania and they took us to Hershey Park and an Nsync Concert and Other Field Trips! There was No excercise regiments enforced and they Never Followed up with me after leaving like their Video said! I gained weight back after! Camp Camelot should be closed for Not doing what they said!!

  • Jim Curtiss says:

    I was a Camp Camelot counselor in Whittier, California during the summer of 1992, and the meal description in this article is way off – at least for our camp. There was a cereal bar, juices, toasts, etc., available for our breakfasts, and in addition to the substantial meal, a salad bar, etc. for all the other meals. Ok, the salads were zero-fat and untasty, but you could eat as much as you wanted. We exercised our butts off for sure – early morning to late evening – and not one of us – counselors or campers, didn’t lose a substantial amount of weight. My “after” photo is the guy I always wanted to look like.

  • Celeste Harmer says:

    I remember seeing Camp Camelot ads in Seventeen Magazine in the early/mid 80s, and I think this story is great! Thanks for giving us a peek into the secret realm of Camp Camelot!

  • Amy says:

    I went to camp Camelot in willimington NC the summer of 78 and Whittier California in 79. I loved this place. I don’t know why you are saying you ate so little because it’s not true. We ate full breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The diet was 1200 calories a day not including evening snacks of veggies and cinnamon tea.. We worked out but it was made to be fun. We had team competitions, went on fun field trips to beaches Disney land even horse back riding in Azusa canyon. I have very fond memories of my counselor Suzy at Whittier campus and Michelle and her mom aunt Thelma were so nice when I had episodes of homesickness. I’m 53 and still wish I could turn back time to when I was 15& 16! Any one out there from willimington 78 or Whittier 79 I’d love to reconnect.. Cheryl wolfe are you out there?

  • Galina karsh says:

    Loved camp Camelot mid 80s at Whittier college. Food was good , lots of exercise and we lost weight. I was trying to see if they’re still in business to send my 9 year old and I’m 44. Fond memories and it worked and taught me and my bestie who went as well a lot.

  • Galina karsh says:

    Would definetely recommend .

  • joyce szeliga says:

    I went to Camelot and actually it was called Napanock in 1973 I think. My first year attending in Santa Barbara. Then worked at Camp Camelot in San Diego two years, North Carolina , and Boston. Worked with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.

  • Laura Frame Matthews says:

    I went to the camp summer of 79 in Wilmington NC. I actually had a good time. But sad to say it was jus a long line ups and downs I’ve had.

  • Maggie says:

    I was at Appalachian University in Boone NC
    It was great ! I too wish I could reconnect with wonderful people I met.

  • Margarita Cartaya says:

    I laughed so hard when I read this. I also went to Camp Camelot in the 70’s to PA at Susquehanna University and in Long Island, NY. OMG we did starve most of the time but I had a great time met wonderful people and specially in PA had a great time. I remember going to Hershey park and eating everything you were not supposed too like pretzels, Hershey bars and Mr. Good bars. I gained 2 pounds after that trip. I remember skipping out at night through the back of our trailers with my roommate through the cemetery to meet to guys we had meet there at camp. We used to go roller skating, camping and out to eat. Great times.

  • Serena CornellS says:

    I worked there in the summer of 1985. No did not starve. Had a veggie platter in the midafternoon. Help yourself. But no dip. In fact, the only condiment we could have was ketchup. The boys also got a piece of fruit because there body composition is different than a girls.
    As a Counselor I could have as much food as I wanted, but I didn’t do much of the extras. I remember sitting outside the dining hall absolutely stuffed. We had baked potatoes at dinner, almost everyday. That is what mad me feel so full. So. No, one does not go hungry. About 8:PM was evening snack. I didn’t eat that, instead, I had found out the dorm where the international students lived had vending machines.. MMMM—- those keebler grasshopper cookies. DIVINE.

    Then it was free time. Teaching classes can be stressful and tiring. The campers were outside, so not much noise. I would go to bed. I liked to iron my clothes in the morning to look great when I needed to teach, prior to breakfast. One could smell the bacon frying, and know one would not be served it.

  • Christopher Johnston says:

    I was a 1984 alumni . looking for a girl named Lisa. thats all i have almost 40 years later and i still see her smile

  • Christopher Johnston says:

    the councilors may not have been hungry love but i promise the campers were. btw we got mustard ketchup had to much sugar

  • Damiano says:

    I was in whittier year 1983 and 1984

  • Jo Quinn says:

    I went to Camelot in either the summer of 1978 or 1979 at Whittier College. I really badgered my Dad to let me go & he did. The food was healthy, excellent & plenty of it.
    I loved the swim aerobics & the day trips.
    One sad thing was that so many of the girls were forced to be there by their parents & hated it. They were smart & humorous, kind & friendly. Did their families ever see beyond their appearance & realize how fortunate they were to have such nice daughters? Some were not overweight but they were not the perfection their parents wanted.
    My roommate was Angel & she was there to get in shape. Just a wonderful person. Another good friend was Kathy Jefferson. We wrote after Camp was over but we lost touch. I’d like to hear from both of them.
    One unexpected surprise was that there was a film crew there making a Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie. We got to see Elizabeth Taylor & we got to meet her co-star Joseph Bottoms. What a summer. A little homesickness but fun too. Yes, I did lose weight but getting active again was the best part. Thanks to all who were there!

  • Damiano says:

    I was in Whittier in 1983 and 1984.
    Looking for Christi
    among other friends also that I don’t remember the name.
    one of the best fun periods of my life

§ Leave a Reply

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