For those up against the Times's paywall:
Earlier this month, the former supermodel Linda Evangelista took to Instagram to announce that she was suing the company behind the cosmetic procedure known as CoolSculpting for tens of millions of dollars because, she said, she had been “brutally disfigured.”
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit against Zeltiq Aesthetics, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Ms. Evangelista in the midst of her saga. While there are known risks associated with all cosmetic procedures, and Ms. Evangelista must still prove her case, no one deserves to enter a doctor’s office seeking treatment, only to emerge disfigured.
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.
For those who remember her feline stare as she stalked the runways of the 1990s, Linda Evangelista epitomized the era’s omnivorous glamour. Like the other top models of that time, she was tall and lithe, but it was her astonishing face that made her fortune. At the height of her career she notoriously claimed she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.
Hers was a ferocious beauty: dark, intense blue eyes tilting cattishly upward at the corners, brows arching dramatically like Sophia Loren’s, the perfectly carved mouth of a classical statue and an arresting nose no plastic surgeon could ever approximate. It was a photographer’s dream — a hypnotizing play of light, bone and angles.
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.
CoolSculpting, which promises to freeze away fat cells without surgery or pain, has been around for years, with ads on television, social media and in many dermatologists’ offices. My own dermatologist has one of the big white machines in her office and has suggested the pricey treatments to me as a quick way to slim midriff or bra-line areas for swimsuit season. I resisted out of a combination of frugality (it costs thousands) and mild suspicion. But I am a mere civilian, a bystander on the sidelines of beauty warfare. Linda is a warrior-goddess.
And so, like Athena, into battle she went — the battle, that is, waged incessantly against age, and flesh, and “bulges,” and any other perceived deviation from bodily perfection. For women’s bodies, that is. And who can blame her? Though 56, Ms. Evangelista apparently still had modeling options, an exceptional longevity shared by only a few of her age peers. (Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss and Amber Valletta still find work.)
But CoolSculpting, according to the lawsuit, left Ms. Evangelista with the purportedly rare side effect known as paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH). The “paradox” of this term refers to the fact that, instead of shrinking away, the fat cells actually rebound and accumulate, causing fatty deposits to multiply and swell in the treated areas. According to Ms. Evangelista, the many areas she had treated between 2015 and 2016 — chin, thighs, abdomen, flanks — now appear heavier than before.
Even stranger, this new fat results from the treatment itself, not from any weight gain. Weight loss, therefore, cannot help or reverse it. Even full-body liposuction (which Ms. Evangelista said she tried) did not fix the issue. According to her lawsuit, this has deprived her of her livelihood and plunged her into deep depression and self-loathing, leading her to become a recluse.
Her body has done the precise opposite of what it was supposed, or expected, to do — on several levels. On the most obvious one, it has resisted the “sculpting,” the lawsuit says, and apparently grown less shapely. But on a deeper level, her body seems to have resisted something else: It somehow refused to conceal the trauma inflicted upon it.