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Image / Style / Beauty

The tragedy of Linda Evangelista’s story has nothing to do with botched surgery


By Holly O'Neill
17th Feb 2022
The tragedy of Linda Evangelista’s story has nothing to do with botched surgery

Linda Evangelista telling us that no longer feeling beautiful has “destroyed (her) livelihood” and the sentiment that she deserves it for her vanity is much bleaker.

Linda Evangelista was one of the original trio of models so renowned, they made fashion culturally relevant in a way it hadn’t been before. Dubbed ‘the Trinity’ (made up of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington), they took models off the catwalk and into the culture; they lip-synced in George Michael music videos, Linda made headlines for saying she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than ten grand and for this particular cohort, their looks and fame elevated their career titles to bring us a new word that better explained their godlike, sacred, divine beauty. They were no mere models and as such, needed their own neologism; ‘supermodel’ – to denote the aspirational level of beauty we were all to form ourselves around, from our eyebrows to our lip liner.

Linda Evangelista became a muse to fashion greats like Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace, her boyish crops sparked a wave of decade-defining hair trends, she appeared on over 700 magazine covers and in 1992 was declared “the world’s star model.” Every model today with a household name owes her (and the other Supers; Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Kate Moss, Stephanie Seymour and more) thanks for the road they paved for them, and the industry continues to make money on the trends they started; at Schiaparelli AW21, beige lips and earthy liner were worn with barely-there brows and Charlotte Tilbury recently released a new collection of nude lipsticks that are an ode to the original Supers, called Super Nudes.

While the ’90s revivals continue in recent years and everything from tie-dye to Monica Lewinksy is being re-examined under a modern eye, the Supers are having a career revival too, closing out fashion shows and appearing on covers once again. But one famous face has been conspicuously missing from the nostalgia publicity train – Linda Evangelista. The reason for this, she announced in September last year, is that five years ago, she had Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting procedure, a non-invasive fat-reduction treatment which left her “brutally disfigured,” putting her in “a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing.”

In some sort of Greek tragedy, Linda Evangelista has become a grim result of the beauty standards she herself perpetuated. Social media has, of course, taken this moment to show the considerate, measured empathy it always has towards women. It’s her own fault, apparently, for risking her health for vanity, as if we don’t worship youth, belittle and depreciate women who experience the passage of time, expect them to remain preserved as a 20-year-old for life and splash JLo and Jennifer Anniston across the news every time they flash an ab, celebrating them for ‘ageing gracefully’ without considering the punishing rituals women exert themselves under because they feel the need to meet these standards.

Linda Evangelista’s career, fame, money, and – it would be fair to assume – self-worth, were entirely built on the beauty she was celebrated for until she was criticised and scrutinized for ageing. That she would feel a need and pressure to still look like she did three decades ago and feel “profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing” that she no longer does is desolately unsurprising.

Because we are all entirely broken, the pictures of Linda Evangelista in recent years that the media called “unrecogniable” have started doing the rounds on social media. Many are understandably hurt that it appears that what she is calling “permanently deformed” and “brutally disfigured,” appears to be just a wider face and neck. The extent of the damage to her at the time wasn’t known, but that we could jump to an assumption that she might be talking about herself like she’s Quasimodo because she weighs more at 56 than she did in her twenties is just further evidence of how disturbing the beauty standards women are held to are.

In a new interview with People, Linda Evangelista told the publication “I don’t look in the mirror. It doesn’t look like me.” She added, “I don’t recognize myself physically, but I don’t recognize me as a person any longer either.”

“I hope I can shed myself of some of the shame and help other people who are in the same situation as me,” she told the magazine. “I’m not going to hide anymore.”

As cosmetic surgeries rapidly become more popular and the beauty goalposts are ever-changing, it’s brave and kind of Linda Evangelista to highlight the risks and potential adverse side effects involved. But this is not the greatest tragedy of this story – Linda Evangelista telling us that no longer feeling beautiful has “destroyed (her) livelihood” and the sentiment that she deserves it for her vanity is much bleaker.

This is beauty’s great double standards at work; don’t be fat, but don’t be thin, don’t be old, but don’t try to look young, don’t be ugly, but don’t try to look beautiful. Women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Life is short and difficult, and if new boobs or a smoother face are going to make you navigate it a fraction easier then you should absolutely do that. If wearing no make-up, a full face of make-up to the gym, never looking in a mirror again, or having less organic material in your body than a hot dog is going to make you happy, do it. What you don’t need is to need it. Linda Evangelista’s story is not a battle cry to end all surgeries – that is just another way of telling women how to look. Looking and feeling your best at any age is an inside job.

All Linda Evangelista is asking for today is “to walk out my door with my head held high, despite not looking like myself any longer.” If we could just stop telling women how to look, that would be easy for us all.

Photography by Erasa.