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GIRLS LEARN HOW TO BE `PRETTY AS A PICTURE’

SHARE GIRLS LEARN HOW TO BE `PRETTY AS A PICTURE’

Smile when you answer the telephone. Don't burden people with your problems. Say "thank you" when someone gives you a compliment and never wear high heels during the day.

After all, there are things a young lady should do, and things a young lady must not.It is an age where crimes are committed by ever-younger youths; where attitude runs high and respect runs low; where a student makes a fashion statement in skid-row dress.

In a decade where parents, educators and social pundits wonder aloud about the state of today's young people, about 40 girls gather each Saturday in an area department store to learn the finer arts of manners and courtesy.

Social etiquette and poise are not a thing of the past, says Mia Alexander, an instructor for the Pretty as a Picture program.

Fifteen young women came to a meeting room at Dillard's department store in Murray's Fashion Place Mall to learn poise, conversation, style, grooming, social graces and table manners. The program, offered in five one-hour classes, is designed to improve self-esteem and confidence among students ages 6 to 16, Alexander said.

"I just don't think this is stressed enough. I think parents try, but peer pressure is so strong that parents kind of lose it," Alexander said. It may help for an outsider, or third party to deliver the manners message.

She believes strongly that every girl should want to act like and be treated like a lady.

Are these values outdated? "Not at all. I think we're teaching valuable skills that will help them throughout life."

What would be outdated in a world full of the perfectly mannered, are prank telephone calls.

During a program session this week, several from a group of seventh- to 10th-graders confessed to Alexander that, yes, they'd made prank phone calls a time or two.

"No prank phone calls." Alexander was unbending. "Nobody has time for that. It's annoying. It's rude, and young ladies don't do that kind of thing."

Following a session with first- through third-graders, and another with fourth- through sixth-graders, Alexander spent 90 minutes teaching older girls how dress, attitude and behavior should become a way of life - and how these skills can carry the young women into better jobs and lives.

Expectedly well-manicured herself, Alexander taught the 15 girls how to ask interesting questions of others, how to learn from people with different opinions and how the skills they demonstrate in baby-sitting jobs are the foundation for job searches down the road.

"Can people trust you?" she asked the girls, who were dressed for tea and seated in a semi-circle. "When you baby-sit do you sit and watch TV, or do you play with the kids? Do you pick up the house before they get home or do you eat all the food in the refrigerator?"

Baby-sitting they could relate to. A few giggled in the early minutes of role-playing proper conversation techniques and telephone etiquette.

They chimed in about appropriate dress for job interviews. "You don't want to, you know, dress in something way up here," said 14-year-old Lindsey Hatch, drawing a line mid-thigh.

"You don't want to dress immodestly," Alexander gently corrected.

Dress and behavior can get tricky, and one or two girls lifted an eyebrow at the subtleties.

High heels are strictly for evening wear. Shoes with moderate heels give the leg shape, Mia Alexander told the group Saturday. That lift makes the leg more attractive, which is why it's a fashion no-no to wear flat shoes.

Be confident in yourself, but don't sit until you're offered a seat.

Alicia Thulin, 13, hopes the classes will improve the way she presents herself. Her friends outside the classes also seem to pick up Thulin's new skills.

Last week the group addressed posture. "I notice that if I stand up straight, my friends start doing it."