Midtown: Community

Using fashion to build girls up

The hideous hiccup that closed the YWCA hasn’t halted Sharon Decoster’s push to empower teen girls by tapping into their confidence-boosting inner fashionista.

Last year, Decoster’s Building A Better You, or B.A.B.Y., partnered with the YWCA on Hargett Street to offer her signature Fashionista Camp. She created the “girl-powered” summer camp to help girls 12-17 become confident, focus-driven women in our changing, complex society.

“This is a big stretch for me to do this camp – without a partner,” said Decoster, a former model and counselor for girls referred through the juvenile court system.

Even so, B.A.B.Y. has presented the Fashionista Camp on a smaller scale on its own since 2004, excluding last year, she said. The success of last year’s day and residential camps at William Peace University, as well as continued need, energize her push forward.

Decoster also has added to her mission, reaching out to all teens with a teen talk and entertainment show. “Style” begins taping its first three shows Saturday at Durham’s Northgate Mall, B.A.B.Y.’s headquarters.

The television show will feature a diverse assemblage of about 25 teen girls and boys from Raleigh, Durham, Wake Forest, Apex, Hillsborough and Burlington. With teens serving as co-hosts, the studio audience will discuss teen social issues as well as fashion, fitness and overall focus on strategies for success.

The show, which also will feature auditioned teen talent, is expected to air on RTN, Media Communications and the People’s Channel, for a combined viewership of about 124,000, Decoster said.

Up first, though, Decoster will hold 30-minute information sessions from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Flowe Building, Room 214, at Peace. She welcomes parents and teens interested in returning to the camp and newcomers who want to sign up for this year’s camps.

The residential camp, geared toward girls 14-17, will be June 17-23 and will include a field trip to the Miss North Carolina Pageant. The day camp, designed for girls 12-17, runs 8:15 a.m.-5:30 p.m. July 15-21, and includes an overnight weekend retreat.

The camp fee, which includes a $45 registration fee, is the same as last year: $499 for the residential week; and $399 for the day camp and weekend retreat. Payment plans are available through May, Decoster said.

The Fashionista Camp helps girls discover and define themselves and their styles at a time when they’re most vulnerable, forced to navigate a society that sends conflicting, often damaging, messages about health and beauty – and the American Dream. The camp includes fashion and modeling with hands-on experience and interaction with gurus of fashion and style, financial independence, fitness, nutrition and other healthy behaviors, relationships and peer pressure.

“All sizes are welcome,” Decoster said. “Media images and peer pressure contribute to teen girls’ unhealthy habits, and too many girls get so caught up in outward appearance, they forget about what’s inward.”

At Fashionista Camp, “I don’t want them to think of just one size when they think of fashion and modeling,” she added. “Fashion and style, self-esteem and positive body image are for everybody.”

Apparently, not enough people say that to our daughters.

Studies show:

• Fifty-three percent of 13-year-old American girls and 78 percent of those who are 17 are unhappy with their bodies.

•  Twenty years ago, models weighed 8 percent less than the average woman at 5’4” tall and 140 pounds. Today, models weigh 23 percent less than the average woman at 5’11” tall and 117 pounds.

• One of four college-age women has an eating disorder.

• In 2007, of an estimated 11.7 million cosmetic procedures performed in the country, 91 percent were performed on women.

Decoster also expects help from sponsors who’ve stepped up so far. Sears is the program’s lead clothing sponsor, and Whole Foods and an organic farming company also have jumped on board.

As teen girls prepare for Fashionista Camp, all teens can still take part in Decoster’s “Style” television show, which she likens to BET’s “106 & Park” or its former “Teen Summit.”

“It’s really nice to have a larger platform and to be able to open the door, not just to girls, but also to boys; to offer a platform where teens can really be themselves and talk to each other about things they face, and how to pull a look together that is respectful of bodies and is still trendy and in style,” Decoster said, adding the show also will feature the truth about healthy – and tasteful – eating, and the importance of exercise and fitness. “It’s a great message to get out there.”

So, too, is Decoster’s equally powerful message of perseverance in tough times.