ONE YEAR AGO, MICHELLE MCINTIRE was lying in a tanning salon in Crofton, Md., when she was suddenly and repeatedly stabbed in a random attack by a stranger. Her wounds healed within eight weeks, but McIntire, 25, was left with more than a dozen fearsome scars on her face, neck, arms and chest. She became afraid to go out in public and fell into a depression that rendered her less capable of caring for herself and her 3-year-old son. Eventually doctors at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems referred her to trauma makeup artist Linda Seidel.
Seidel covered the scars with creamy tints carefully matched to McIntire's skin, then sealed the makeup with a waterproofing powder strong enough to withstand even a day of swimming. "I was amazed," says the joyful McIntire, who has returned to a normal life while awaiting plastic surgery. "When she was done, you couldn't tell I had a scar on my body." Seidel, she says, "made if OK to look in the mirror again.
Seidel, 43, describes herself as an aesthetic rehabilitation specialist—a pioneer in the growing field of extended care for trauma patients—who helps accident victims, as well as people with genetic disfigurements, to conceal deformities either in place of or until they have surgery. Operating her own scar clinic out of Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Department of Plastic Surgery, she speaks with an almost evangelical fervor about her work. "I connect with these people on the deepest level," she says. "And when I see the effect of my work—how some of them are reborn in the process—I tell myself, 'I'm gonna do this until I'm 90!' I give people's lives back to them."
Seidel's therapy has two components: In an approximately 30-minute session she first demonstrates what makeup can do, and then she shows her clients how to apply it themselves. One patient she's worked with is Barbara O'Donnell, 64, who in 1980 was badly burned in an auto accident. Even after 15 sessions of plastic surgery over three years, Barbara's face remained disfigured. Her eyelids were different sizes (the result of a skin graft), her lips were scarred, an eyebrow was missing. Children would ask, "Is that woman wearing a Halloween mask?"
Seidel taught her to hide the scars, cosmetically replace missing features and tone down the shine of grafted facial tissue. "At first I fell I didn't have a future," says O'Donnell, "but Linda Seidel gave me my face back. I was so encouraged to learn that I could apply the makeup and start doing things for myself."
Growing up in Baltimore, Linda was the kind of child who would make up all the girls on the block. She studied portrait painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art but left at 18 to marry high school sweetheart Michael Seidel (who, after 20 years in the home-improvement business, now helps sell the specially formulated cosmetics his wife has developed). A year and a half after the second of their two daughters was born, Seidel became restless and obtained a cosmetician's license.
In 1973, just a few months after opening her own beauty salon in downtown Baltimore, she got an inkling of a career beyond cosmetology when a woman with a scar asked for makeup that would cover it. The only existing product created a "heavy, masklike appearance," says Seidel, who began experimenting with blends of her own. She knew she was on the right track when she was able to hide a large purple birthmark on the face of one of her clients. When the woman wept tears of gratitude, Seidel was hooked. "All at once, I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else," she says.
Over the next decade news of Seidel's transformations spread, and plastic surgeons started sending her patients. (She sees about 12 trauma victims a week—nearly 60 percent of her caseload—while the rest are just routine cosmetic customers.) With the help of a cosmetic chemist, she developed Natural Cover—a line of custom-blended shades designed to match any skin tone—which last year grossed $100,000. In 1984 her book, The Art of Corrective Makeup, was published, and last December the Baltimore County Medical Association gave Seidel a Distinguished Service Award.
For Seidel, though, the sense of having helped is the real prize. "The human spirit is amazing," she says. "To watch people struggle through this appalling suffering—and then emerge as vital, creative human beings—is a precious gift."
TOM NUGENT in Baltimore
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