Jon Carlton creates women. He just doesn't understand them.
In the past two years, he has criss-crossed the United States with an entourage of beauty experts helping women enrich their lives and encouraging them to maximize their beauty and social potential.
Using his LifeStlye '80 concept, he has added style to the lives of fat women. Skinny women. Tall women. Short women. Young. Old. Beautiful women. Homely women.
The workshops offer self-help tips for creating what he calls "the total black woman" through good health and nutrition, makeup, career dressing, hair care and natural beauty products.
Social skill counselors discuss assertiveness training and male-female relationships, all to help the upwardly mobile woman "round off the rough edges," says Carlton. "Men aren't yet willing to admit they need a little help."
That is unless the man is Jon Carlton.
As he waltzes through the workshops like a nervous terrier, you sense that Carlton's self-image is closely linked to that of the middle-aged housewives, students, young mothers an career women soaking up the advice.
The odyssey to help others began as a personal quest three years ago, says the 36-year-old New Yorker. Laziness and junk food had ballooned his 5-foot-9 frame to 205 pounds. At age 33, he couldn't run a block or shed a pound.
He dieted, lost 62 pounds, began roller skating and running. As he grew healthier his five-year marriage sickened and collapsed, leaving him twice divorced.
Out of the havoc grew LifeStyle '80. Unable to communicate with two women, Jon Carlton took on Everywoman.
"I got involved because I feel I have a lack of communication with women," he admits somewhat reluctantly. "I've tried marriage twice and it didn't work out."
Both marriages produced daughters, however, that have become "the two most important ladies in my life."
He has custody of his oldest daughter and now is writing a book on single parenting from the child's point of view.
Another force behind Carlton's success with LifeStyle '80 has been co-sponsor Bernice Calvin, who helped develop LifeStyle from a beauty trade show she created 18 years ago.
It was also Calvin's idea to incorporate social-skills training into the program. Assertiveness training -- her brainchild -- is included in the workshops to help black women understand what she call their "martyr complex," an attitude, she says, stemming from the belief that hard work along will propel you up the career or social ladder.
"But you've got to assert yourself. You can't sit there and be silent," says Calvin. "Our inability to express what we're about is one of the problems keeping us in bad relationships."
What black women have been asking for most, says Calvin, is help in self-confidence and finesse. And at a recent all-day workshop at the Washington Sheraton Hotel more than 400 women paid $9 for that help.
They happily offered up their faces to oatmeal and egg-white facials in the quest for glowing skin. A middle-aged women questioned Seattle-based hair designer Johnny Guillory about hair care, relating how an experience with dyed hair and hair relaxer nearly made her bald three years ago.
"I promised the Lord," she said, "if He let me live through it, not another woman would put a relaxer on my hair."
A fashion show with pre-selected models from the audience proved young girls, grandmothers an less-than-perfect women could look almost-model perfect in the right clothes and accessories. Fashion coordinator Rosemary Miller of Toast and Strawberries said she's conducted similar "image workshops" for the Montgomery County Teachers Association and D.C. government offices, among others.
Enthused by their discoveries, the women laughed, joked and generally had a good time.
More than one mother/daughter combination got caught up in the natural beauty session offered by Norma Jean and Carole Darden, who shares family folklore and down-home beauty secrets.
As other groups concentrated on outer beauty, George Davis, author of "Love, Black Love," led a group of 50 women through a multiple-choice questionnaire on male-female relationships.
Asked what they wanted most from a genuine relationship with a man, Davis was surprised to find most women said "good mental stimulation and conversation." Fidelity, sexual excitement and being a good provider followed, in that order.
The women agreed, if a man is mentally invigorating, the other characteristics will follow as the relationship grows.
The response was just one of the many myth busters that developed out of the workshops as women learned, yes, Virginia, you can have kinky or curly hair and still be attractive and loved. Or you don't need gamely gams and slim hips to be attractive.
Carole Darden perhaps best summarized the LifeStyle concept: "We feel that when you feel good about yourself, and look good, then who you are is essence, will shine through. And you're a much more confident person in everything you do."