This is certainly not where Linda Evangelista imagined she’d be in her 50s: Hiding out from the public, ashamed of her appearance, a poster woman for what can go wrong as we try to stay young- and vital-looking.
Evangelista is one of the most gorgeous women on the planet, and has been known as such since the early 90s. She was part of a triumvirate–along with Namoi Campbell and Christy Turlington–that ruled magazine covers and runways when I was in my 20s and 30s. Her pouty lips paired with fierce eyes and an imperfect nose added up to one of the most memorable faces of our era. There’s no reason she couldn’t have stayed looking ravishing as she worked her way through her 50s, 60s and beyond, and in fact she continued modeling until recently. Then she had an unfortunate encounter with a cool sculpting machine.
The complications have sent Evangelista into “a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing.”
This is what Evangelista, 56, announced on Instagram recently: “To my followers who have wondered why I have not been working while my peers’ careers have been thriving, the reason is that I was brutally disfigured by Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting procedure which did the opposite of what it promised.” She went on to say that after having the fat-freezing procedure she developed paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), a side effect in which patients develop firm tissue masses in the treatment areas. Evangelista is suing the makers of the machine. “PAH has not only destroyed my livelihood, it has sent me into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing,” she wrote. “In the process, I have become a recluse.”
Linda Evangelista Confirms My Worst Fears
Whenever I look at the crinkles around my eyes or mouth and imagine them being magically erased by some procedure or another, I always stop and think of this: how embarrassing if I died or became disfigured for vanity. That stops me in my tracks, and I resolve I will never ever think about taking such measures–until the next time I’m spending too much time in the mirror and lamenting the state of my skin.
In our culture women aren’t allowed to age naturally.
But I have to admit that some of the procedures I’ve recently learned about have been especially tempting because they seem non-invasive. I’ve looked into liposuction and CoolSculpting for back fat (around my bra line) and abdomen, areas that no amount of exercise seem to be able to reduce. CoolSculpting is an outpatient treatment, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, that is designed to kill fat cells near the surface of the skin by cooling them in a process known as cryolipolysis.
Evangelista’s lawsuit says she had seven CoolSculpting treatments from August 2015 through February 2016 to break down fat cells in her abdomen, flanks, back and bra area, inner thighs, and chin. Within a few months, she developed “hard, bulging, painful masses under her skin in those areas,” it said, and was given a diagnosis of PAH in June 2016.
The bulges supposedly look like sticks of butter under the skin, and I’m trying to imagine that formation on Evangelista’s exquisite chin. “I have been left, as the media has described, ‘unrecognizable,’” Evangelista says.
The Irony and Cruelty
Evangelista’s plight makes me incredibly sad. Not just for her, but for all of us women who feel we need to go to such extremes to stay in the game. Women who never were blessed with Evangelista’s genes in the first place.
“There is a mythic component to the sobering and revealing mirror her circumstances now hold up to our culture. Ms. Evangelista’s story invites us to consider it in a broader context,” wrote Rhonda Garelick in the New York Times story “The Cruel Paradox of Linda Evangelista’s Fate.” “That a mere mortal was tasked with reshaping her, trying, that is, to wrest the chisel away from the hand of Nature herself, makes for Greek levels of tragedy.”
Evangelista’s fate reveals the anguish and frustration behind the pressure all of us feel to keep up appearances.
Cruel is the operative word here. Some media outlets have published photos of Evangelista looking frowzy and bloated in a 2017 photo–the better to attract gawkers who want to see this mean twist on before and after shots–and have questioned why someone so beautiful needed artificial help. Why? Because in our culture women aren’t allowed to age naturally, especially not women who want to get hired to represent brands in advertisements, especially not women who have made their fortune via their face.
I found Garelick’s frank analysis in the Times particularly on point, and was glad to see it in a publication with such a huge readership, though I wonder how much long-lasting impact it will have. “The `paradoxical’ fat deposits she cites in her suit are not the crucial paradox here,” Garelick writes. “The real paradox is middle-aged women expected to look 30 years younger than they are. The films and magazines filled with impossibly smooth-skinned 50- and even 60-somethings, Pilatified and Botoxed and wearing hair extensions. They are living paradoxes yet presented without comment or explanation. The paradox is that a world obsessed with women’s hyper-visibility can dispatch them so swiftly to invisibility, to exile, should they fail to adhere to certain diktats.”
Linda Evangelista’s honesty about her fate is important because it reveals the anguish and frustration behind the pressure all of us feel (to some degree or another, at some point or another) to keep up appearances and the impossibility of ever reaching the goal posts, which seem to keep moving as we keep aging. I hope Evangelista, so famous for her beauty, can become even more famous for helping us take down society’s architecture for keeping women our age feeling less than.