Until recently, Lisa Lucchese, 44, took no pleasure in fashion. "I dressed to not be naked," she says. She wore the same thing every day to her job as a private nurse—dark tank top, sweats, and big, dark shirts she thought would mask her hips. "I never looked in mirrors," she says.
Lisa was severely overweight and had been for years: "I went on my first diet in high school to try to lose 15 pounds. After I got married and had kids, I started to put on weight. Food was the center of my universe. I ate when I was bored, when I was stressed, when I was down. I tried every diet. But I was so big—285 pounds—that the thought of losing 140 pounds was overwhelming."
She finally realized that dieting alone wouldn't work for her: "I remember thinking, 'I have no life. I can't move. I'm out of breath.'" Her mother had undergone gastric bypass surgery in 1998 and lost 180 pounds, and her sister had the procedure in 2006 and took off 160 pounds. In the fall of 2007, Lisa had surgery, too. Eleven months later, she reached her goal weight of 145 pounds, and with the help of two support groups, she's kept it off. Now she wants clothes to match her personality. "I want to look as good as I feel," she says. "I don't want to dress blah."
When O magazine's creative director, Adam Glassman, visits Lisa at her home, he notices that her wardrobe makes her look as if she's in mourning—lots of black, brown, and navy (in other words, blah). Going through her closet, they find a number of giant-sweatpant outfits and pairs of "mommy jeans" (high-waisted, pleated, ample in the rear). The remaining pieces are a mishmash of bright fabrics and prints, a departure from Lisa's go-to dark colors.
"As I lost weight, my sister gave me hand-me-downs," she explains. "She's a little flashier than I am—she's an artist—so her pieces don't really fit with mine. But I never like to spend money on myself. My kids need stuff, so I buy for them."
"Lisa has always put herself last," says her mother. "I think she was intimidated by her older sister." It's true, Lisa says. "One thing I'm hoping to get out of this is to discover my personal style. Not my sister's."
During a week with O's makeover "dream team," Lisa has her hair cut and colored, her teeth whitened, her makeup done, and her bra fitted. Adam begins his makeover with pieces from her closet that have potential, along with several new outfits. He wants to create distinct looks for work, for weekend, and for evening. As he shows her one option, Lisa balks. "Don't be afraid of white jeans," Adam says. "You can toss them in the washing machine, and you can wear them in the fall. There are no season rules anymore." He also insists she throw out her granny panties and buy some thongs: "Anything else will give you ugly panty lines!"
When our ten-hour photo shoot wraps up, Lisa is a little shell-shocked but happy. "The great thing about this makeover is it's not a Cinderella story or fairy tale," Adam says. "All the pieces are low-maintenance, and we worked with the clothes Lisa has and the brands and stores she's comfortable with."
Lisa agrees, and adds that she's found more than a sense of style. "I think if I look good, I'll feel good," she says. "And I'll be an inspiration to my daughters and the people in my support groups." She ticks off other things she's learned: "That I can wear red and pink together, that a good bra makes all the difference—and that I can sit here comfortably in a thong."
A few weeks later, Lisa reports she's seeing even more changes. In the past, she had avoided attending parties with her husband's high school friends and their wives, feeling that she didn't fit in, but for the next get-together, her husband RSVP'd for both of them. He told Lisa that he wants to show her off. And for the first time, she says, "I'm really looking forward to going."
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