Linda Evangelista’s ‘disfiguring’ cosmetic surgery proves that the body positive movement is failing


If I had cheekbones I would be fine. That’s what I told myself when I was a teenager, thinking anxiously about my future. For many years, I thought more about my lack of cheekbones than about my academic or professional success. Like many women my age, I fetishized thin, angular faces with broad features. The genre seen in fashion campaigns, Winona Ryder films and Mizz, the magazine for teenagers now defunct. I looked at my face in the mirror, pulled my cheeks back with my palms and thought “it’s better”. Sometimes I still do.

Linda Evangelista is one of the most beautiful women in the world: her beauty is the reason she is famous. So when I heard that the 56-year-old Canadian model had been left “permanently deformed” by a cosmetic fat-freezing procedure, my first instinct was to despair that even someone like her was not in it. safe from the impossible beauty standards that women face. My second was to pull my cheeks back.

In today’s world, it would be easy to think that beauty is no longer defined by a single model. The body positivity movement has made room for tall women in the mainstream media; the Victoria’s Secret show was usurped by Rihanna’s famous Savage x Fenty show; there’s even a trend on social media dedicated to women who don’t wear makeup – didn’t One Direction say that’s what makes us beautiful?

The truth, of course, is that regardless of cultural advancements and Harry Styles and co’s sayings, standards of beauty are still deeply embedded in society. Women who abide by conditions that society conventionally deems attractive, whether naturally or not, are likely to move around the world with greater social and economic value. Those who do not will not benefit from the same concessions. It’s a concept known on social media as a ‘pretty privilege’ – and it was discussed so fervently on TikTok last week that it was covered on BBC Radio 4. Woman’s hour.

As a model, Evangelista is a hyperbolic example of how pretty privilege works. Here is a woman whose entire career has been built on her appearance. A woman who made about 700 magazine covers and once said that models “don’t wake up for less than $ 10,000 a day.” And yet, this mastodon of the podiums has been hiding for five years. Why? Because her face was left “brutally disfigured” by a CoolSculpting procedure designed to treat the “visible fat bulges” under her chin and jaw. Read between the lines and the dark subtext is that Evangelista feared losing his lovely privilege and did not know how to move around the world without him.

Take a look at the mother of one’s Instagram feed and you’ll find mostly nostalgic returns from Evangelista’s heyday. A happy birthday message to fellow model Naomi Campbell comes in the form of a black and white photo from the 1990s, a tribute to the late Lanvin Creative Director Alber Elbaz is a snapshot of a fashion night in 2005, and even her 53rd birthday was marked with an “FBF” [flashback Friday] post of a Vogue Italy cover from 1994. Evangelista lives in the past because that was when her aesthetic capital was at its peak, and she has been socially conditioned to believe that it is declining ever since. We all have.

As feminist researcher Naomi Wolfe argues in her bestselling book, The myth of beauty, youth is the paradigm of beauty. Aging, meanwhile, “is not beautiful since women become more powerful over time.” This, she writes, is just one of the many ways in which society was designed to defend patriarchy. And despite the fact that Wolfe’s book was published in 1990, almost everything she writes is relevant some three decades later, especially when it comes to age.

For a while the British Vogue published an issue of “Ageless Style”. Once a year, women over 50 graced the cover of the Fashion Bible, ironically pointing out that they hadn’t done so for the other 11 issues of the year. In 2019, the magazine was widely praised for putting 81-year-old Jane Fonda on the cover of its ‘special ageless’ supplement, which was designed to promote diversity and tackle age discrimination. women face in the fashion industry and beyond. Few people pointed out that Fonda’s coverage was secondary to that of the May issue, which was edited by Kate Moss, 37 years her junior.

If Evangelista has taught us anything this week, it’s that the pressures on women to look a certain way are not improving. In fact, I would say they are getting worse. Social media has made us all a lot more visible, which not only means that beauty standards are even more important, but they’re even more unrealistic. It’s got to a point where social media platforms are even making this easier by constantly posting new filters that allow users to improve their appearance, some of which have even been designed to make it look like you’ve had surgery. aesthetic.

Then there is “Instagram Face”, a term coined by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino to describe the “white but ambiguously ethnic” face (it’s often seen as a cross between Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner) that is universally sought after online and offline. The idea is that if you don’t look like that, now there are tools to make it look like you do.

I would like to think that Evangelista would continue to present magazines or campaigns with a “disfigured” face. But I find it hard to think that she would be seen in the same way. Instead, it would be seen as sort of a gradual step, like with Fonda’s “ageless style” cover. I practically hear businessmen in dusty suits say that post-CoolSculpting Evangelista would be the perfect fit to represent “real women” in their latest campaign.

Maybe, then, isn’t it that Evangelista doesn’t know how to live in the public eye without her pretty privilege, but she just doesn’t want to. Frankly, with pressures like these, who could blame him?

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