Is Linda Evangelista's Fate Inexplicable?
Women can be sent into invisibility so quickly in a culture that values their high visibility.
As recently as earlier this month, ex-supermodel Linda Evangelista resorted to Instagram to declare that she was suing CoolSculpting for $10 million after being "brutally scarred" by the surgery.
Even if Zeltiq Aesthetics wins the lawsuit, it's impossible not to feel sorry for Ms. Evangelista during this ordeal. Ms. Evangelista must still establish her case, but no one deserves to go to the doctor for treatment just to come out with a damaged face as a result.
The sobering and revealing mirror she is currently holding up to our civilization has a legendary quality to it. The narrative of Ms. Evangelista encourages us to look at it in a larger perspective.
Linda Evangelista embodied the omnivorous glamor of the 1990s with her feline look as she strutted down the catwalks. In common with other top models of her era's, she was tall and lithe, but her striking features were what brought her fame. The woman once famously said she wouldn't get out of bed until given at least $10,000.
Dark, deep blue eyes tilted cattishly upward at the corners, dramatic brows arching like Sophia Loren's, the flawlessly carved mouth of a classical statue and an arresting nose no plastic surgeon could ever approximate: Hers was a fierce beauty. Stunning light, bone structure, and angles made for a photographer's dream.
This is tragedy on the scale of Homer's Iliad, for a mere mortal was tasked with sculpting her, trying to steal the chisel away from Nature herself.
CoolSculpting has been advertised on television, social media, and in the offices of numerous dermatologists for years as a means to freeze away fat cells without surgery or pain. There is a giant white machine in my dermatologist's clinic, and she has offered these expensive procedures for rapid stomach or bra-line area slimming in time for swimsuit season. The combination of frugality (it costs thousands of dollars) and slight mistrust made me hesitant to give in. But I'm just a bystander, watching the beauty wars from the sidelines. Linda is a demigoddess of war and a warrior.
That's how it began — the never-ending war against "bulges," "age," and any other perceived deficiency in physical perfection that she fought like Athena. Meaning for women's physical structures. It's hard to blame her. Even at 56, Ms. Evangelista was still able to find work as a model, a feat accomplished by only a handful of other women her age. Although Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington have all found new jobs since their last photoshoot, Amber Valletta and Kate Moss have not.)
In contrast, according to the lawsuit, CoolSculpting resulted in paradoxical adipose hyperplasia in Ms. Evangelista (PAH). In this case, the "paradox" refers to the fact that fat cells do not go away as expected, but rather rebound and consolidate in the treated areas, increasing the number of fat deposits. When it comes to the several places of her body that were treated between 2015 and 2016, Ms. Evangelista says they now appear even heavier than they were previously.
Stranger still, this new fat is a direct effect of the medication, not an increase in weight. As a result, losing weight will have no effect on the condition. According to Ms. Evangelista, she even tried full-body liposuction without success. This, according to her lawsuit, has left her jobless and depressed, prompting her to withdraw and become a recluse.
On multiple levels, her body has done the exact opposite of what it was designed to do. On the most obvious one, the lawsuit claims that it has resisted the "sculpting" and has therefore become less slender. Despite this, her body seems to have fought something else: it refused to hide the damage done to it.
Let's face it, no matter how "mild" or "noninvasive" CoolSculpting may be, the idea of freezing your fat cells to death with a massive machine evokes an underlying brutality. There are reports online from former patients documenting adverse effects such as extreme pain and limited mobility that can continue for weeks even though the procedure is said to be painless and require no downtime.
Allergan's spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit or the complaints of the procedure's negative effects from former patients for this piece.
Many people will not be surprised by the negative effects that have been mentioned. What additional harm could come from something powerful enough to vaporize your flesh? Even if Ms. Evangelista's case is an outlier, how could there not be unintended consequences? Is there some reason why we weren't told about this before?
The answer rests in the amount of money we as a society are willing to spend to rid ourselves of beauty culture's violence. We tend to ignore the risks of cosmetic surgery's side effects, pain, and aesthetic deformities. No matter how many times we talk about body acceptance and diversity, we still do very little to change our culture's preoccupation with thinness and diets.
It only takes five minutes at Sephora to get a sense of the ever-growing categories of things we can do to "better" our bodies. Eyelashes (expand) and lips (inflate) and body hair (eliminate) and pores (reduce) and eyebrows (reduce but also enhance) are just a few examples of the many parts of the body that can be monitored, regulated, embellished, augmented, or even deleted totally.
Body alteration may be interesting and exciting, and I don't pretend to live in a bubble. As I get older, I've found that certain aesthetic practices have become more obligatory as well as more enjoyable. Some of these overwhelming expectations will inevitably find their way into your mind.
Evangelista's lawsuit is noteworthy, however, because of the following reasons: Actually, it discloses the processes that we're trying to hide or deny using this kind of analysis. Because of this mistake, she was forced to recognize that she needed "help" to seem as trim as a 25-year-old fashion model, but she was also able to display, and even act, the internalization of beauty culture that she had been resisting.
The essential paradox is not the "paradoxical" fat deposits she mentions in her suit. The true contradiction is that women in their 40s and 50s are expected to look 30 years younger than they actually are. Impossibly flawless 50- and 60-something women, Pilatified and Botoxed, with hair extensions abound in movies and magazines. They're real-life paradoxes, but no one bothers to point it out. When it comes to women, the paradox is that in a world preoccupied with their hyper-visibility, they can be banished to invisibility or exile in the blink of an eye if they don't comply with certain rules.
This last aspect, which is reminiscent of something from Greek mythology, should not be overlooked. Other persons with PAH-related side effects, like Ms. Evangelista, claim that the obstinate fat deposits that bulge beneath their skin do not resemble normal flesh. When compared to the hand-held CoolSculpting tool used to "freeze" fat cells, they look more like long, solid rectangular bars.
To put it another way, when PAH occurs, the body adopts the exact shape of the reshaping tool. A weapon that disfigured the body has been internalized and the body has become a tool for that weapon. When it comes to Ms. Evangelista's body, she claims it left a lasting, visible record of what it was designed to hide.