She was on the cover of every fashion magazine, she was every big designer’s ultimate muse—that is until a procedure gone wrong caused her to halt her career and retreat from the spotlight.
In 2015, supermodel Linda Evangelista tried CoolSculpting—an FDA-approved procedure meant to shrink fat cells by freezing them—to non-surgically enhance some parts of her body. She went to seven sessions, targeting her chin, thighs, and bra area, but after a few months, the model realized that not only was the procedure not working, it had left her “permanently deformed,” she told People in an interview.
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Evangelista, now 56, described the changes in her body as hard, numb bulges.
“I tried to fix it myself, thinking I was doing something wrong,” she said, explaining that she began dieting, exercising more, and eventually got to a point where she “wasn’t eating at all.” She added, “I thought I was losing my mind.”
Her doctor soon confirmed that she was suffering from paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), a rare side effect of CoolSculpting in which the fatty tissue grows instead of shrinks.
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Dr. Dmitriy Schwarzburg, a cosmetic medicine surgeon in New York City, tells BAZAAR.com that CoolSculpting is meant to be a safe, noninvasive alternative to liposuction, as it requires no needles, no incisions, and little to no side effects. There is, however, a less than 1 percent chance that one can get PAH, and its effects are often nonreversible.
After five years with PAH, Evangelista has done everything to try to get her body back, but she said the effects have proven to be “permanent.”
Evangelista filed a lawsuit against CoolSculpting’s parent company, Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc., seeking $50 million in damages. She claimed she lost work due to the condition caused by the procedure.
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(Zeltiq Aesthetics has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which is pending before the court.)
The company offered to pay for the model’s liposuction, but insisted she sign a confidentiality agreement. She refused and instead paid in full for her two liposuction surgeries—one in 2016 and another in 2017.
But the PAH came back after each, she said.
“It wasn’t even a little bit better,” she said. “The bulges are protrusions. And they’re hard. 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.” She said her posture has also been affected, because she can no longer “put my arms flat along my side. I don’t think designers are going to want to dress me with that”—she pulled down her shirt and showed the rectangular shape of PAH protruding from under her arm—“sticking out of my body.”
“I don’t look in the mirror,” she added. “It doesn’t look like me.”
Evangelista is still working on accepting her new body and loving herself following her unfortunate experience. But she’s “not going to hide anymore,” she said, and she hopes her story can help others going through similar situations.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.