Eighteen months ago Sue Freeman, self-described computer nerd, walked into a beauty salon and, nine hours later, walked out looking like a model. Her shoulder-length hair was cut and colored strawberry blond. Makeup enhanced features she'd never emphasized, and her neutral suit had been swapped for a vibrant outfit. Freeman had undergone a complete makeover.
A year and a half after her transformation, Freeman, 32, sits in her high-tech office, hair still cropped, eyes shadowed by Lancome, cheeks blushed by Mary Kay and lips glossed by Estee Lauder. Although she switched from spectacles to contacts when she changed her look, she recently reverted to wire-rim glasses. She says she's made only minor changes to her new image because she likes it and wants to maintain it.
"I had never realized that I could look pretty before," Freeman says. "After I saw that it was possible, I felt I had some control over how I look."
For many, a makeover is a fantasy come true, like being on "Queen for a Day" without the sob stories. And there's little risk: If the woman likes what she sees, she can learn the makeup and hair-styling techniques and adhere to the fashion suggestions. If she doesn't, she can shower off the memory and go back to her old clothes.
About half the women who undergo makeovers keep their new image, says Louis Licari, color director of Manhattan's La Coupe salon. Licari, who oversaw Freeman's makeover in Los Angeles, says that "the perfect makeover candidate is self-confident and ready for a major change. Otherwise, no matter how much we try to prepare them for a new look, some women just aren't ready to accept what they see."
For some women, the new face in the mirror can be a shock. Experts say it's because the women focus on the changes.
"One of my clients freaked out," says L.A. makeup artist and photographer Michael Maron. "She was absolutely numb." Maron, author of "Michael Maron's Instant Makeover Magic," adds that "even though everyone around her agreed that she looked incredibly beautiful, she wasn't happy. She felt like someone else."
Although many makeovers are head-to-toenail affairs in which a woman's appearance may change drastically in one day, David Kibbe, who owns Metamorphosis, a makeover salon in Manhattan, says that accepting the new look often takes about six months. "They usually can adjust to the change if it occurs in stages. First the new hairdo. Then new earrings. Then new makeup and finally the clothes. After they accept those changes, they often start to make other more difficult changes, such as losing weight or switching jobs. What this gradual makeover method gives women is a new self-image and more self-confidence."
Dr. Mark S. Goulston, a psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA Medical Center, says that successful makeover clients do not approach the process as a way to change their lives. "People who like themselves do things that continue to build self-esteem, whether it's a new diet, an exercise regime or a makeover. Women who are looking for a quick fix to an existingproblem are disappointed when their problems aren't immediately solved. So they go back to square one and start looking for another easy answer."
Maron and Licari say that many of their makeover clients have continued to improve themselves with better fitness habits, better jobs and more satisfying social lives. But they agree that it's the woman--not the makeup--who makes the difference. Freeman nods her strawberry-blond head in agreement. "The makeover didn't change my life," she says. "It just opened up a world of possibilities."