In the period since that non-meeting, though, something happened something out of a postmodern fairy tale that finally caused Kevin to pay attention and set Stacey's life on a fresh course. Thanks to the plastic surgeons, personal trainers, hair stylists and wardrobe consultants of the hit ABC TV series Extreme Makeover, homely Stacey became a raving beauty. After $18,000 worth of liposuction procedures, brow and eye lifts, Botox injections and dental work, Stacey went home to Nebraska from Hollywood an astonishing 35 lbs. lighter and looking like a newly minted pop star. In no time, her troublesome boyfriend was history and May, who glimpsed her again at a local street dance, was in hot pursuit. There were a few glitches, though: her 6-year-old niece Alexis failed to recognize her, and her co-workers at the nursing home resented her new image, she contends, and caused her to change jobs.
It has been more than a year since Stacey's transformation, time enough to assess its early consequences for her and those around her. Her story, like those of other recipients of Extreme Makeover's aesthetic magic, shows that when ugly ducklings become swans (particularly if surgery is involved) ruffled feathers can ensue, not to mention a fair amount of swelling physical, emotional and social. In its desire to produce inspiring fables, the program plays down these complications, but they're real, and they raise important questions. Can human beings really change from the outside in? Does suddenly looking like a million bucks alienate those who can't afford to? And after the free limo ride is over, how easy is it to maintain a face and body granted by the whims of the TV gods?
"Everything about me was round. I just felt like a snowman," says Dan Restione, 41, a Seattle radio producer whose makeover last summer took six weeks and could have cost him an estimated $80,000 if he'd had to pay for it. For that kind of money, Dan deserved bionic superpowers, but what he got a slimmed-down torso, a more prominent chin, sculpted cheeks, a fuller hairline, and teeth as white as Aspen after a blizzard made him feel like an "action hero," he says, and lifted him out of a multiyear depression that had followed a divorce. If ever a man was ready for some superficial happiness, it was the teeth-grinding, chain-smoking Dan, who dubs his premakeover self the "king of cynics."
His ex-wife Ashley Zimmerman concurs. "You are now as fabulous on the outside as you are on the inside," she says. Dan wouldn't argue. He's a positive thinker now, full of can-do, upbeat mottoes and brimming over with assertive high spirits. The man whose favorite sayings used to be "Love is a joke" and "Sex is just friction" spends his time these days flirting and dancing. He sincerely believes that "your life is in your hands and you can make it better." His eyes, no longer obscured by thick glasses, thanks to LASIK surgery, are a striking bluish green. His weight is down from 270 lbs. to something approaching normal for a 5-ft. 7-in. man.
Although he has discarded his $10,000 hairpiece because the glue that attached it to his scalp kept peeling off and he still puffs Marlboros, Dan is on a roll. Some of the people around him feel run over, however, as he readily acknowledges. "People are sensitive to my changing," he says. Chief among them is his daughter Bonnie, 11, who thought of her old dad as a cuddly teddy bear and somehow doesn't trust his new svelte form and game-show-host good looks. Nor does she understand how she fits into her father's new romantic life with Lesli, a waitress who is 17 years his junior and has just moved into his apartment. "The time that he used to make for her or us as a family," says Dan's ex-wife, "is now devoted to the girlfriend. So Bonnie, I would say, is really angry. In her mind, he's dumped her." One person's empowerment, it seems, can be another's abandonment.
For much of her premakeover existence, Tammy Guthrie, 41, a mother of three in St. Petersburg, Fla., was a drab, weary homemaker in sweat pants and a T shirt. Then the Hollywood fairies intervened. They gave her a bright porcelain smile, a sassy California hairdo, a neck lift, a face-lift and, at least for a while, a bold new attitude that revved up her relationship with her husband Wally. "Our romance had really waned over the years," she says. Wally felt as if he were having an affair in the weeks that followed Tammy's return, but since then things have cooled. A regular date night quickly faded from the couple's busy schedule. Soon Tammy's fancy new hairstyle was gone too, replaced by a more maternal, down-home cut.