I Need A Makeover: Reason To Smile

Four young moms, each married to a US soldier receiving medical care at Walter Reed, get new looks—and a day just for them.

By: sara levine

Mothers with young children usually have little time to spend on themselves. Susan Badia, Judith Padilla, Xochil Palacios, and Christina Lipschutz all have babies or toddlers.

They’re also caregivers to their husbands, US soldiers undergoing treatment or rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The women live in Fisher House, a family residence on the medical center’s campus in DC.

Jhonny Davila, owner of Cahra Salon in Gaithersburg, heard about Fisher House from a client who volunteers there. He invited the female residents to enjoy a free day of much-deserved pampering.

“These women are going through some difficult times,” he says. “It’s a nice way to give back to those families and those soldiers.”

The Fisher House women have visited the salon in groups—Cahra had already made over about a dozen women. On a recent day, Susan, Judith, Xochil, and Christina had their turns.

After gauging each woman’s personality and preferences, Jhonny and his sister, co-owner Teresa DeSouza, colored and cut each woman’s hair. The women also had their eyebrows waxed in Cahra’s upstairs spa and new makeup applied courtesy of the salon’s Veronica Smith. They enjoyed a lunch buffet donated by Lebanese Taverna.

A few days earlier, the women had visited Daisy Too boutique in Bethesda and picked out clothes for The Washingtonian’s postmakeover photo shoot.

Susan: Shorter and Sassier

Susan Badia has lived in Fisher House for more than a year. Her husband, Jace, lost his left leg in Iraq in November 2006 and is now in a wheelchair. Back home in Florida, Susan worked in a veterinarian’s office, but taking care of Jace and their 18-month-old daughter, Kylee, is now her full-time job.

“If Kylee ever sleeps in, I might be able to straighten my hair,” says Susan, 21.

Jhonny first cut Susan’s long, thick, curly blond hair while it was dry. “We do this with really textured hair to visualize the final shape, and then finish the cut when it’s wet,” he says.

Susan’s hair color suffered from over-highlighting, which Jhonny says he sees frequently. Adding darker tones would make it look more natural, he said, so he put in highlights and lowlights. “She looks good as a blonde, and she’ll still be a blonde,” Jhonny said. “Just a more believable one.”

He showed Susan how to wear her hair curly using a bit of gel, leave-in conditioner, and a hair dryer—less time-consuming than straightening.

“I didn’t think I’d like my hair this short,” Susan says. “But it’s so much easier to deal with. Now I don’t have to just put it up in a ponytail every day.”

Judith: Pretty in Red

Judith Padilla, a petite 27-year-old from California, describes her premakeover hair as “short and nappy.” With two kids under three and a husband recovering from war injuries affecting both his left hand and his short-term memory, she doesn’t have much time to devote to styling.

“My husband was pretty excited that I got to do this,” she says. “He told me, ‘Let them do whatever they want. Let them surprise you.’ ”

Judith’s hair had been dyed very black, which made her skin appear pale. “It looked like her hair was colored from a box,” says Jhonny. “We needed to get all of that out and put some red tints in.” Because her skin has some yellow tones, he thought she could carry red well.

Jhonny gave Judith a sleek bob with bangs: “She has nice big, round eyes, and that’s a huge decision factor for bangs.”

The four makeover subjects, before and after.

Xochil: Sleeker and Shinier

Xochil Palacios is nervous about cutting her long, thick hair. She remembers a bad haircut in Germany, where she and her husband, David, lived for six years while he was stationed there with the Army.

David was injured in Iraq; he suffered shrapnel wounds and loss of vision in one eye. He’s recovering well and today is watching their eight-month-old, Ivana, at Fisher House while Xochil takes a rare break.

Xochil first got a five-minute glossing treatment that gave her dark brown hair a slightly lighter, caramel base. This technique doesn’t cover gray—which wasn’t a problem for 25-year-old Xochil—but softens and lightens a dark color. Jhonny also added subtle light-brown highlights in front. “Her hair was way too long with no shape,” he says. “The highlights help liven it.”

Using a straight-edge razor—which creates shape and takes weight out of the hair—Teresa cut off between eight and ten inches, added layers, and angled Xochil’s hair around her face. “She didn’t want short hair,” says Teresa, “so even with several inches taken off, it’s still really long. But it’ll be much easier to take care of.”

Christina: Bounce in Her Step

Christina Lipschutz, 32, ended up at Fisher House when her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She tries to be at the hospital with him as much as possible, but because their six-month-old isn’t allowed in the intensive-care unit, Christina can visit only if she has a babysitter.

“I feel like I’ve missed the last year of my life,” she says, adding about her day of beauty: “I want them to cover up all those lost hours of sleep.”

Christina, a high-school English teacher from Pennsylvania, wanted a “professional but not too old” look. She told Jhonny that she normally wore her wavy, light brown hair in a ponytail because “it’s just so much easier.”

He updated her look with new highlights to match her natural ones. Teresa took care of the cut, taking off about two inches and creating layers. “She has strong features, strong cheekbones,” says Jhonny. “We refined the shape of her hair to accent those features and to give it bounce without taking out much length.”

Teresa showed Christina how to style her hair quickly at home with leave-in conditioner and herbal styling gel.

Ready for Their Close-Ups

Each woman took a turn in the makeup chair. Veronica matched foundations to each woman’s skin tone and used combinations of eye shadows to create natural looks. She perked up lips with liner and glosses.

“I don’t normally wear anything on my lips,” Susan said. “If Kylee swipes up against it, it gets all over her clothes.”

Christina nodded: “Once you have a baby, it’s not about you anymore.”

For one day at Cahra salon, it was all about these women. They posed for pictures with renewed energy, confident postures, and big smiles.

“So many of these girls look so sad and reserved when they come in,” says Jhonny. “Looking at them when they got the photos done, they were so bright and luminous and happy.”

“I love the hair,” said Judith, shaking her new bangs.

“I’m happy with it,” said Xochil. “It was a great day.”

Susan agreed: “I feel pretty. I can’t wait to go home to Jace and say, ‘You’re making me dinner tonight!’ ”

Getting the Look

Cahra Salon and Spa, 5 Grand Corner Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-921-6655; cahrasalon.com.

Daisy Too, 4940 St. Elmo Ave., Bethesda; 301-656-2280.

Check out more makeovers from the December 2007 issue of The Washingtonian. Plus, how to improve your skin in one hour.