By Jennifer Wulff
October 04, 2004 12:00 PM

Mary Ann Finsterwalder, 62

Eight years ago, Mary Ann Finsterwalder was a depressed alcoholic who felt far older than her 54 years. She successfully completed rehab in 1997, but years of smoking and drinking had taken a toll on her looks. “My face kind of fell,” she says. Her sister and brother-in-law offered to pay for a face-lift, so she went to Dr. Brent Smith in Englewood, Colo., emerging from surgery (which also included an eye lift and a laser peel) a new woman. “I began feeling so good about myself, I got a job at a daycare center, started wearing makeup again and made new girlfriends,” says Finsterwalder, who quit smoking as well. “But my husband, who was very controlling, couldn’t deal with it. He even called my plastic surgeon and said, ‘Mary Ann isn’t acting like herself.’ Dr. Smith said, ‘So you’re calling me to complain that your wife is happy?’ ” The two began sleeping in separate bedrooms, and in 2002, after 21 years of marriage, they divorced. “She really changed, becoming more independent, and we grew apart,” says Ed, now the owner of a mediation firm in New York City. “There should be some sort of psychological counseling before surgery, because afterward, things come up.” Now a top seller in the handbag department of Nordstrom near her home in a Phoenix suburb (where she moved to be closer to her three children from her first marriage), Finsterwalder does Pilates, plays with her five grandkids—and accepts the occasional backhanded compliment with good humor. She still laughs, for example, about a neighbor’s child who asked her, “Why do you have a mommy face and grandma hands?”

Tina Stugart, 39

Tina Stugart was never much for the bar scene. But now, after losing 125 of her 290 lbs. thanks to a gastric bypass operation last year, “I like to go out and dance and dress up and look good,” she says. Her husband, Mike, however, would rather she stay at their Trout Run, Pa., home with him on Saturday nights. “I always thought the reason to go to bars was to meet people,” says the 40-year-old drywall finisher, who became distant and withdrawn in the months following Stugart’s surgery. “I was being flirted with and looked at, but not by my husband,” says Stugart. The couple nearly separated. But for the sake of their three children, aged 4 to 17, they decided to rekindle their romance. In July they renewed their vows on a cruise to the Bahamas. “He’s been making more of an attempt to interact with me,” says Stugart. “I’m not ready to give up.”

Joyce Spath, 33

Getting ready to take their sons, now 10 and 11, to a rodeo in 1996, Joyce Spath’s then-husband, auto mechanic Glenn Smith, asked his wife why his jeans were so short. “I said, ‘Oh my God, those are my jeans!’ ” recalls Spath, “a big junk eater” who weighed 250 lbs. to her husband’s 300. Heavy since childhood and suffering from gallstones, Spath, whose family has a history of obesity, decided to join Weight Watchers. Within 18 months, she dropped to 145. At first, Smith was supportive, even buying her a treadmill, but once she lost weight, “I became more jealous and possessive,” he says. Adds Spath, now 135 lbs.: “I started standing up for myself more.” The couple, who divorced in 1999, now live separately outside Kansas City and share custody of their sons. A mortgage company receptionist, Spath directs the same type of Weight Watchers meetings she once attended. Smith in the meantime has lost 80 lbs. himself. “Maybe I wasn’t understanding enough,” he says. “It meant so much to her to lose weight, maybe I should have done it with her, so we could both say, look what we’ve accomplished.’ ”

Jennifer Wulff. Kerri Smith in Phoenix, Jennifer Frey in New York City and Matt Birkbeck in Trout Run