Girl Power: Debra Penzone's True Beauty Initiative

In the Greater Columbus Ohio community, Debra Penzone, president of the Charles Penzone Salons, has long been known as much for her charitable work and the numerous boards she serves on as she is as the face and driving force behind the famous salon group with six locations. As such, Penzone has increasingly found herself invited middle and high schools to talk with groups of young girls about beauty skincare and fashion.

“But as I looked at those girls and we talked about the issues they face, all I could think about was Debbie Miller, all her insecurities and all the bullying and fears I went through,” says Penzone. “I knew I needed to tell those girls the truth.”

The truth is, the young girl Debbie was all about the outer shell of beauty, admits Penzone. “I was one of the popular girls and everyone seemed to always like me. One day on the playground, I announced that I was creating Debbie Club, and the club turned into what today is labeled a ‘mean girls’ club.”

But going into junior high, Penzone learned what she says is her most valuable life lesson. “My appearance changed with breakouts of angry, red eczema on my arms and face, and one of the popular boys started calling me names. Before I knew it, my Debbie’s Club girls kicked me out of my own club—it happened that fast.”

With the help of an older friend Ellen Bailey, who could sympathize because her red hair and freckles made her feel an outcast, young Debbie reached out to her parents and found love, support and guidance to get her through those tough years.

“Being out there with those girls and seeing how social media and texting has magnified their problems, I became committed to helping them find their own True Beauty,” says Penzone, who continued to speak at mother & daughter teas, local schools and girls’ organizations.

Eventually, Penzone turned that passion into a book, Debbie’s Club: Discovering My True Beauty for Girls, and a three-stage companion program for girls aged 10-18 . The self-discovery program combines thought-provoking exercises with fun-filled activities to help girls explore their differences, expand their communication skills and find their own true beauty.

My True Story: In the first phase of the program, Penzone shares her story and encourages the girls to each share something that is unique about themselves, talks to them about body language, energy, and communication skills and conducts some role-playing to demonstrate the impact first impressions can have when trying to make friends. The girls each journal as a process to help them tap into their own true stories, then they create inspiration boards as a visual representation of those stories.

My True Self: In the next segment of the program, Penzone encourages the girls to celebrate their true selves from the inside out by reflecting on tough topics that teens face and exploring their own values. The girls learn how self-confidence can guide one through tough times and how to be true to themselves and their beliefs. To celebrate their true colors, the girls tie-dye Debbie’s Club T-shirts.

 My True Beauty: In the final phase, Penzone introduces the girls to their own unique style and look through hair, makeup and fashion. The girls learn about their face shapes, body shapes and personal styles, and frequently Penzone taps her salon staff to help the girls learn how to accentuate each. She’ll encourage the girls to bring the outfit that makes them feel the best, and the professional team will help their girls with their hair and makeup. This portion of the program often ends with a photoshoot.

Since initiating the program, Penzone has seen some incredibly positive response. Not only have the girls themselves shared stories about how the process empowered them, but the mothers of girls, who have gone home and opened up, have called to thank Penzone. School guidance counselors have shared feedback on the positive changes they’ve noted with girls that have been in the program. And Debbie’s Club program ‘graduates’ have found their way back into the salons to work at the front desk, become active in the salon’s prom squad marketing campaign or work as Debbie’s Club camp counselors.

“Our brand is all about giving back, and we do it as a way to say thank you to the community for all they’ve given to us,” says Penzone. “And, now our Grand Salons are opening the doors to a third generation of clients.”

What You Can Do?

Debra Penzone encourages any salon owners with an interest in developing similar girl empowerment programs to offer their expertise to the girl-focused groups in their own communities. Owners can volunteer themselves or their team members as speakers, or can open salons for events such as teas, parties or sleepovers. In addition, a Debbie’s Club (DebbiesClub.com) book can be used as a tool to walk an owner through structuring their own self-discovery program. Get connected with girls by:

Calling on Counselors: Connect with guidance counselors at junior high and high schools and ask if they are in need of volunteer speakers.

Go Scouting: Towns of almost any size are home to Girl Scout troops and Campfire Girls—find out which meet in your community and call on the troop leaders.

Find Religion: Call local houses of worship and ask if they have a youth coordinator or a religious school or summer camp program.

Align with Like-Minded Organizations: Check out other national girl-empowerment efforts, such as Girls on the Run (girlsontherun.org), Girl Talk (mygirltalk.org) and Ban Bossy (banbossy.com), and look for opportunities to partner with local outreaches.