There comes a point in every woman’s life when she learns that less is more when it comes to makeup. Even for models.

If left to their own devices, the dozen young ladies — ages 11 to 16 — attending Modeling Camp D.C. might have overdone it. Inspired by the incessant selfies of overly made-up pseudo-celebrities on social media, they would have piled on unnecessary foundation, heavy lipstick or dark eye shadow.

“That’s Hollywood, it’s for show,” Caritza Aguilar warned them. The aesthetician and professional makeup artist was guiding the group through proper skin care. “Nobody walks around looking like they’re going to a red carpet everyday.”

Instead, Aguilar had the campers gaze into their travel mirrors and share what they thought their best feature is.

“My smile,” said one girl.

“My freckles,” chimed another.

“We want to bring out what we like best about ourselves,” Aguilar said. A swipe of light pink blush to accentuate high cheekbones. A hint of mascara to make the eyes pop. A dab of lip gloss to highlight a pretty smile, braces and all. Makeup is all about moderation, she said, so that you stay true to yourself. But mostly, “it’s just for fun.”

Modeling, fun? Hasn’t everyone from Tyra Banks to Cara Delevingne been telling us that it’s grueling, hard work — a cutthroat, predatory industry of fierce, flawless (albeit airbrushed) glamazons whose entire livelihood can be threatened by a single mini-Snickers or bad hair day? A cult of beauty blamed for imposing unrealistic standards on generations of coming-of-age girls? Who’d want to send their daughter into that?


Tatiana Paunovic, 13, of Madrid, Spain, applies mascara during a lesson in natural makeup. (Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post)

Kaylee Cantler, 15, of Waynesboro, Pa., applies blush along with two other campers. (Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post)

But there were no spray tan booths at Modeling Camp D.C., no yards of tulle nor scary diets nor 10-year-olds made up to look 30. Held inside a meeting room at a nondescript Courtyard Marriott in Tysons Corner, the four-day, $999 class was more like an old-fashioned charm school. There were lessons on age-appropriate makeup, the importance of SPF and good posture — things your grandma might nag you about — for gangly girls deep in the trenches of the most awkward stage of life.

It’s really just like any other summer camp, said founder Heather Cole, a place for developing life skills. The former model and talent scout started the camp in Fredericksburg in 1995. It has since expanded to include major markets such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

Attendees learn interview skills — something they might not get in school — by hearing from local booking agents about how to handle themselves at auditions and castings. Presenter Sondra Hoffman of T.H.E. Artist Agency said being a model is about “learning to be a professional.” Models have to be punctual, respectful and “they’re able to speak on subjects they might not know a lot about.” At a casting call, Hoffman said she’s more apt to book the girl with the energetic, positive personality than someone with an attitude, no matter how gorgeous they are.


“It’s not magic,” says runway model/doctoral candidate Rogi Banks, seen here telling campers about posture and poise. (Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post)

One of the older campers, 15-year-old Kaylee Cantler, said she hoped camp would help her “come out of my shell since I’m pretty shy.” Sitting next to her, 16-year-old Alexandra Dubois said she’s more interested in politics than modeling. “But my mom said it could help me learn public speaking,” she said.

The girls also got a lesson in poise and posture from local runway model Rogi Banks, who is working toward a doctorate in school psychology at Howard University. “It’s not magic,” she said, her head held up and level, her hands down. And never underestimate the power of eye contact: “I shouldn’t have to guess if you’re listening.”

Giving and receiving criticism tactfully is another big part of a model’s job, Banks told the girls. “It’s about sharing what was positive” about another girl’s performance, she said. “But if you know there’s room for improvement . . . then explain to them what they can do to make it better.”

“Like a compliment sandwich,” joked 11-year-old Christine Franklin — compliment, criticism, compliment.


Alexandra Dubois, 16, of McLean, strikes a pose for her photo shoot. (Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post)

“Nobody walks around like they’re going to a red carpet every day,” warned Caritza Aguilar, here applying makeup on Katie McQueen, 15, of LaPlata. (Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post)

But this was still modeling camp and the focus inevitably turned back to the external. The girls learned how to pick flattering clothes and practiced posing for photos. They learned about height requirements for runway models (5-foot-9) and how to impress at casting calls. The week ended with a photo shoot with a professional photographer and a choreographed runway show for their friends and families.

Eleven-year-old camper Aicha Bleers said she has always wanted to model. “When I was little, I loved to dress up and put on my mom’s makeup,” she said. “I like to perform in front of other people.”

Banks, the model/doctoral candidate, said she was the same when growing up. “Modeling for me is what I do for enjoyment,” she said, adding that it allows her to draw on her background in theater: “You’re partnering with another artist” — photographers, fashion designers — to “bring their art to life.”


Does a good runway walk boost self-esteem? Here, the campers watch each other practice. (Brittany Greeson/The Washington Post)

Modeling, art? “I get it,” said Cole, the camp founder, of the unease many feel about the business. She admitted it can be off-putting “when you put ‘model’ and ‘girl’ in the same sentence.”

But “you can’t eliminate social media, the daily pressure they’re hit with front right and center,” to look a certain way, she said. Girls will be exposed to the constant barrage of image obsession no matter what. “The only way to combat that,” she said, “is to build a child’s confidence.”

Besides, what requires more confidence than strutting down a runway? Learning how to do it right, she argued, can foster the kind of self-esteem and bravery needed to be a woman today — whether commanding a boardroom or just walking down the street. And if a girl goes to modeling camp just to learn how to look good? That’s okay, too.