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One of the most iconic supermodels in the ’90s, Linda Evangelista spoke out about a cosmetic surgery that left her “permanently deformed” and “brutally disfigured.”

Linda Evangelista is shedding light on a tragic surgery that changed her daily life forever. 

The former supermodel, who became one of the most beloved and photographed female figures in the ’90s, quietly slipped out of the public eye a few years ago. She revealed to PEOPLE earlier this week that her disappearance was a deliberate choice and that she’d essentially been “hiding” since undergoing a disastrous cosmetic surgery that permanently altered the shape of her body. 

Her journey through self-doubt, shame and eventual healing is something many of her fans have gone through, themselves, and her recovery is one we can celebrate and emulate in our own lives. 

How Linda Evangelista’s Cosmetic Surgery Led to a Long Medical Battle

As she explained in the People interview, Linda opted for what was advertised as a non-invasive alternative to liposuction called CoolSculpting. Unfortunately, the FDA-approved method did the opposite of what was intended and left her “permanently deformed” and “brutally disfigured.” Within months of her procedure, she started noticing changes in her body: the areas that were supposed to shrink started expanding, leading to stiff bulges around her chin, thigh and breast area. 

Linda thought she could remedy these irregularities with diet and exercise. “I tried to fix it myself, thinking I was doing something wrong,” she said. When she consulted a doctor, he diagnosed her with Paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH). As described by the magazine, PAH is, “a rare side effect” where “the freezing process causes the affected fatty tissue to thicken and expand.”

Often, there is no cure for the condition, but Linda chose to complete two corrective liposuction surgeries, after which she had to wear “garments, girdles and a chin strap for eight weeks.” Unfortunately, the PAH returned, and it bore severe consequences for her physical ability. In her words, “If I walk without a girdle in a dress, I will have chafing to the point of almost bleeding. Because it’s not like soft fat rubbing, it’s like hard fat rubbing.” Her posture isn’t the same either, as she cannot place her arms by her side. She can’t recognize herself anymore, and each and every glimpse in the mirror is a painful reminder of what she used to represent: immense beauty, sophistication and influence. 

I don’t look in the mirror. It doesn’t look like me.

Linda Evangelista to PEOPLE

How Linda Evangelista Lost Her identity and Fought to Overcome Body Shame

Linda Evangelista wearing glasses in the street

Linda sued CoolSculping’s parent company in September 2021, claiming $50 million in damages for the loss of wages she suffered due to the surgery’s allegedly harmful side effects. More importantly, she doesn’t want to hide any longer and wants to share her story with the rest of the world. “I can’t live like this anymore, in hiding and shame. I just couldn’t live in this pain any longer. I’m willing to finally speak,” she said. 

In the aftermath of the procedure, she hated running into someone she knew, terrified they would form a judgment about how her face and body looked. It was a steep descent from the peak of her career, where she possessed the ability to command the attention of every eye in the room without so much as speaking a word.

Today, she’s encouraging other women to re-evaluate the perceptions of their bodies. “Why do we feel the need to do these things [to our bodies]?” she asked. She had always known she would age, but never in her life could she conceive she would end up looking or feeling like this. She said she “lost her identity,” not just her physical attributes, but the person underneath the surface. Linda Evangelista, the supermodel, is “sort of gone,” in her view. 

I hope I can shed myself of some of the shame and help other people who are in the same situation as me. That’s my goal.

Linda Evangelista to PEOPLE

Beauty Is Perception 

Red haired woman in silhouette

Linda’s journey doesn’t just serve as a warning of what may happen during a medical procedure, it’s also a reminder that time affects us all in different ways, both physically and emotionally. However, we can take ownership of our age and our perception of our beauty as we pass through time, and as that journey changes us.

Unfortunately, women in the public eye face particularly vitriolic and dangerous scrutiny about how they age, making the unattainable idea of beauty all the more impossible to achieve. That, perhaps, is why Linda Evangelista, and many people like her, undertook the measures she did. What happened to the renowned supermodel is truly tragic, and speaks to a terrible weakness in our culture. It also speaks, however, to her character — and human nature, generally — that she can absorb that revelation about society and herself, and find the resolve to foster a better, stronger sense of her inner and outer self.