Occupation: Software Developer
Kenisha Johnson, 32, was at home in Apex, North Carolina, reading the weekly online newsletter she gets from Oprah.com, when she saw this post: Do you want a makeover by the O beauty team? "Well, duh," she thought, and clicked her way to the link. She answered some questions ("What do you do to take care of yourself?" "Not much"); wrote a cover e-mail ("Dear Oprah, I have lost it! Lost touch with being beautiful, after two babies, a move, and a diagnosis of Graves' disease"); and asked her husband if he would take a photo she could upload onto the computer. "I filled out everything, hit 'submit,' and then I thought, 'Surely that's the end of it.'"
Reflecting on that afternoon, she breaks into a bright, high-spirited laugh. "And you phoned me the next week!" Which is how Kenisha, a software developer, found herself at the O magazine offices in New York City one sweltering day in August, anticipating a consultation with a quartet of world-class beauty experts: hairstylist Edris Nicholls, owner of the Edris Salon, and her senior colorist Joshua Dieffenbacher; makeup artist Rebecca Restrepo; and, for brows, Achilina Marinescu, from Eliza's Eyes . Once here, she was determined not to miss a thing. "I'm trying to be in the moment," she told me. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Before meeting her dream team, Kenisha, whose consistently good nature could make any dark cloud proud of its silver lining, described her experience with Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes overactivity of the thyroid gland. "It was an interesting challenge," she said. Graves' manifests in ways that, if you've just had a baby, can seem a lot like postpartum symptoms. So Kenisha attributed her weight loss (more than 30 pounds over nine months), exhaustion, irritability, and anxiety to the fact that she had recently delivered her daughter, Kenadi (now 1 1/2), and to the fact that she was often chasing after her son, Myles (now 3). But a blood test revealed Graves', which Kenisha now controls with medication. She's feeling much better: more energetic, less anxious. "It's time to focus on looking as good as I feel," she said. "I'd resorted to a life of jeans—not the nice kind—T-shirts, and ponytails." In other words, Kenisha had become a frumpy mom.
At the Edris Salon in lower Manhattan, Edris and Joshua determine that Kenisha needs some contrast; her hair, a deep brown, is the same color as her eyes. They decide to bring her natural shade up to a medium brown and add caramel highlights. "That will give her a halo effect around her face and make her gorgeous eyes stand out more," says Joshua. (Kenisha is very quiet during the consultation. "Are you okay?" I ask. "I'm just listening," she tells me, "trying to remember everything everyone says.") Joshua applies a honey-colored dye to Kenisha's hair, which he rinses after about 15 minutes. Then he dries her hair and applies the highlights. "I'm giving you the golden child look," he says. Post-highlights, she does, indeed, look as if she has a subtle golden halo. Does she like it, this heavenly influence? "Oh, my, yes," she says, smiling angelically.
(Above) Kenisha's Daytime Look: With her overall haircolor "lifted" a shade, the addition of caramel highlights, and a graduated bob, Kenisha's hair flatters her gorgeous face. Her brows, lightened slightly, are waxed into a cleaner shape and filled in with brow pencil. Sheer gloss emphasizes her lovely mouth.
Kenisha's haircut and makeup application take place at the photography studio because her pictures will be shot immediately after her makeover. About her haircut, Edris says, "I want to give Kenisha a style with a stronger shape, so I'm going to cut her hair into a bob with a slightly graduated line from front to back. That will give some lift and volume but will leave her hair long enough for a ponytail." Edris runs her fingers through Kenisha's curls, fluffing them out a bit. "On the other hand, I want this cut to be so easy to take care of that she won't be tempted to pull it back," Edris says.
(Left) Kenisha's Evening Look : Playing up Kenisha's huge brown eyes with three shadows, in black, gray, and a coppery brown, and adding false lashes amps up her everyday look. A sheer, cream blush in a rosy shade and a nude-mauve lip gloss complement (and don't compete with) Kenisha's sexy, smoky eyes. ("When the eyes are so strong, the rest of the face should be minimally made up," says makeup artist Rebecca Restrepo.) A flatiron used at the roots gives Kenisha's curls some extra volume.
Edris cuts Kenisha's hair dry ("Curly hair shrinks up when it's dry, so cutting it wet, you risk going too short"), taking off about three inches all around. She points out that very curly hair like Kenisha's often has different textures all over the head; cutting dry allows Edris to see the differences and cut accordingly. She advises Kenisha to apply just a small amount of a leave-in conditioner to her damp hair, in sections ("If your hair is soaking wet, the product will just slide right off"). Then she shows her how to dry her hair with a diffuser on her blow-dryer, holding it against the hair and keeping it still to cut down on frizz. But Kenisha can also let her hair air-dry. "I want her to be able to just shake her head and go!" says Edris. Kenisha sits very still, her hands folded in her lap, watching while Edris does her thing. When the cut is finished, Kenisha stares at herself in the mirror. There is a moment or two of nervous anticipation about her response. "Oh," she says, finally. "Oh, I love it!"
Rebecca Restrepo takes a step back and looks at Kenisha's bare face. "She's really very beautiful," she says, to no one in particular. "Absolutely flawless complexion." She uses her fingers to apply foundation to Kenisha's whole face, including her eyelids. "Using your fingers warms the foundation, so it melts more easily into the skin," says Rebecca. She applies a copper eyeshadow as a wash on Kenisha's lids from the lashline to the crease, then wets a little corner of the shadow in the pan to apply with a liner brush along Kenisha's upper lashline. Next she coats the tops and undersides of Kenisha's lashes with black mascara. "I want her eyes to look natural but have a lot of definition," says Rebecca. She dabs a cream blush in a rosy mauve on the apples of Kenisha's cheeks for a fresh glow. Then she lines her bottom lip with a brown lip pencil. "In many African-American women, the lower lip is lighter than the upper lip, so a little dark pencil evens out the color." Finally, on both top and bottom lips, she applies a mixture of a plum and pink gloss.
Her makeup complete, Kenisha is fitted with a new pair of chic jeans and a top. She looks at the jeans admiringly. " These aren't mommy jeans," she says. Then she tries on a body-hugging sequined dress and slips into a pair of sleek four-inch heels. She steps up to the set, where the photographer waits to take his first shots. Someone turns up the sound system, and Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" blasts through the studio. Kenisha's dream team, beholding her beauty, whistles and claps.
And it is in these next few moments—as she tosses her luxurious, highlighted curls, suggestively raising one perfect eyebrow and then the other—that Kenisha Johnson, mother of two, is transformed from frumpy mom into a stunning, sexy, confident ten.
Make Yourself a Ten! Makeup artist Rebecca Restrepo's winter beauty tips
"Makeup should change, the way clothing does, in the colder seasons," says the New York City makeup artist. Here are her tips for updating your routine as temperatures dip.
1. Just add water. Moisturize winter skin by adding a drop or two of water to liquid foundation; swirl them together in your hand as you apply. If you use powder, lightly spray your face with water a few minutes before application.
2. Tone it down. To make your favorite bright eyeshadow a slightly warmer shade for winter, mix it with brown: "It will deepen the color without changing it too much."
3. Beware of bronzer. "It can be so far from a woman's natural winter skin tone that it can look like orange or red smudges on the face," so adjust it as your summer tan fades.
4. Mascara for all seasons. "I always really accentuate the lashes," says Restrepo. Her foolproof technique: Use only black mascara, scraping the wand's excess onto the top of the tube before you start, "the way you would a knife on the side of a plate." Then keep working the wand into your lashes until they look really dark and feathery. "Even if you don't think there's still mascara left on that wand, there will be tons!"
Make Me a Ten! One mom overhauls her sex life, another gets a wardrobe revamp