December 5, 2021

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The Cruel Paradox of Linda Evangelista’s Fate

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The answer lies in how much our society invests in disappearing the violence of beauty culture. We gloss over the possible side effects, pain and distortions of cosmetic surgery. Despite talk of body positivity and diversity, we still do little to address our national obsession with thinness and dieting, with youth, with polishing our human skin to the smoothness of glass.

Five minutes at Sephora is all you need to grasp the ever-multiplying categories of things we can do to “improve” our bodies. There is no part too small to be monitored, controlled, embellished, augmented or removed entirely, from eyelashes (extend) to lips (inflate) to body hair (eliminate) to pores (reduce) to eyebrows (reduce, but also enhance) and so on, through nails, hair, teeth, ad infinitum.

Some of this body modification is, I admit, fun and interesting, and I do not claim to live apart from my own society: I both enjoy and feel obliged to practice certain beauty rituals, which have changed over time, as I age. It’s simply impossible not to internalize some part of these overpowering demands.

But this is precisely why Ms. Evangelista’s lawsuit is so startling and important: It actually reveals the processes we are meant to disappear or disavow. Not only did this mishap force her to acknowledge that, yes, a woman in her 50s would need “help” to appear as slim as a fashion model of 25, it also spectacularly demonstrated, even performed, the internalization of artificial beauty culture.

The “paradoxical” fat deposits she cites in her suit are not the crucial paradox here. The real paradox is middle-aged women expected to look 30 years younger than they are. The films and magazines filled with impossibly smooth-skinned 50- and even 60-somethings, Pilatified and Botoxed and wearing hair extensions. They are living paradoxes yet presented without comment or explanation. The paradox is that a world obsessed with women’s hyper-visibility can dispatch them so swiftly to invisibility, to exile, should they fail to adhere to certain diktats.

And then there’s this detail, again worthy of Greek myth: According to Ms. Evangelista’s lawsuit, and to other people who have suffered the side effect of PAH, those stubborn fat deposits that balloon beneath their skin do not look like normal flesh. Instead, they resemble longish, solid rectangular bars — which in fact, reproduce perfectly the shape of the hand-held CoolSculpting wand, the device that is passed over the flesh to “freeze” the fat.

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