Famed supermodel Linda Evangelista has spent nearly five years in seclusion after she says she was disfigured by a popular cosmetic treatment, but now she is coming forward to share the condition that has left her body "unrecognizable."
Evangelista, 56, spoke with People for the cover story of its upcoming issue about the "hiding and shame" after she developed disfiguring lumps on her body that she says were caused by CoolSculpting, a popular fat-freezing treatment viewed as a non-invasive alternative to liposuction.
"I loved being up on the catwalk. Now I dread running into someone I know," she told People. "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."
"In her own words, she’s become a recluse," People deputy West Coast editor Jason Sheeler told Emilie Ikeda on TODAY Wednesday. "She says she’s agoraphobic.
"She says she still doesn’t look in the mirror. She still doesn’t want to leave her home."
Evangelista first shared in an Instagram post in September that she had become depressed and rarely went out in public due to the effects she said were caused by the CoolSculpting procedures. The supermodel who has graced more than 700 magazine covers in her career and famously starred in George Michael’s “Freedom” music video in 1990 now fears her modeling career is over.
She filed a $50 million lawsuit in September against CoolSculpting's parent company, Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc., saying she has been unable to work due to the complications from seven sessions she underwent in 2015-16.
"I had stubborn fat. CoolSculpting appealed to me because it wasn’t radical. It was like a spot treatment," she said on the People Every Day podcast.
Evangelista alleged in her lawsuit that she "developed hard, bulging, painful masses under her skin" after undergoing the treatment to break down fat cells in her abdomen, flanks, back and bra area, inner thighs and chin. She gave a glimpse at the areas in the People cover story.
She underwent two liposuction surgeries that were not able to fix the deformities, according to her lawsuit.
Zeltiq Aesthetics declined comment to TODAY about Evangelista's lawsuit, citing ongoing litigation, but said in a statement that CoolSculpting "has been well studied with more than 100 scientific publications and more than 11 million treatments performed worldwide."
The treatment uses very low temperatures, or cryotherapy, to destroy fat cells. TODAY's Savannah Guthrie and Jenna Bush Hager gave it a try in 2018, with Savannah saying "it's really just a spot treatment."
The procedure is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the side effects Evangelista experienced are rare and disclosed to patients. Evangelista said she was never made aware of the risks.
She told People she was diagnosed with paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), a rare side effect where the freezing process in CoolSculpting causes the fatty tissue to thicken and expand.
“The bulges are protrusions," she told People. "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.”
"The bulges and protrusions are permanent she says, and so they may not go away," Sheeler said. "And so right now, all she knows is that she doesn’t want to hide anymore, and that she wants to start talking about it."
Evangelista says the transformation goes beyond her appearance.
“I don’t recognize myself physically, but I don’t recognize me as a person any longer either," she told People.