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The disfigurement of Linda Evangelista only scratches the surface of the dangers of cosmetic procedures

When I was studying stem cell biology, I had to read a lot of case studies because stem cells are a highly experimental area of biology. In many ways stem cell biology is still a wild frontier for research. For any disease from autism to diabetes to multiple sclerosis there is a research group trying to cure it with the use of stem cells, usually by just injecting stem cells into an area and just waiting to see what happens. But the number 1 reason for stem cell research is spinal cord injuries. 

After reading hundreds of research studies on the effects of stem cells on patients with spinal cord injuries a clear pattern emerged. Regardless of the country where the study was conducted, or various other factors, a clear majority of spinal chord injured test subjects were younger males. And their injuries were always caused by one of maybe 5 things: riding motorcycles/street racing, diving into shallow water, playing football, or fighting (sport/non-sport). Sometimes you would read of a woman who got injured in a car crash or an elderly person who fell out of bed, but the bulk of the subjects who became paralyzed were almost always younger males doing something voluntarily reckless. 

The problem with stem cell biology is that as of now it doesn't work to cure paralysis. Once a glial scar forms on the spinal cord, it stops all signals like a roadblock. So any message from the brain gets stopped once it reaches the scar and moves no further. This is why neck breaks are the worst type, because the signal gets stopped immediately. And when the signal stops that means you cannot move or do anything else beyond that point. 

Its tragic that one moment can change your whole life, and that you can never go back to how you were before. We just don't have a cure for it. 

What the above also makes me think about are the millions of people around the world who underwent an elective cosmetic procedure and their lives were permanently ruined for it. Just like no one needs to play football, or race a motorcycle, no one needs to get cosmetic work done. Yet these are dangerous things people do without much thought for the consequences. 

Any time you get a procedure done to your body, whether it is a facial or a face lift, a massage or liposuction, you risk harm. The Hippocratic oath states to "first do no harm" because even the ancient Greeks knew that any time a doctor does anything, be it however minor, the patient risks harm. 

And the cost of vanity is more than just the doctors bill:

1.Botox can cause permanent, irreversible sagging/drooping of the skin

2. Brazilian butt lifts have the highest mortality of any cosmetic procedure (1:3,000)

3. Dermal fillers can cause blindness.

4. Stem cell skin treatments can cause uncontrolled bone growth.

5. Facelifts can cause permanent nerve damage and scarring. 

6. Skin whitening treatments can burn and permanently disfigure the skin. 

7. Breast implants cause cancer


When considering a surgical procedure, the risks are apparent. Most who go into a doctors office for liposuction are instructed on the risks of complications, and the fact that it is done in a hospital setting, with a surgeon,  under anesthesia makes these risks even more obvious. But what isn't made so obvious are risks of  of non-surgical, non-invasive cosmetic procedures that are increasing in popularity.

The increase in popularity of non-invasive surgical procedures is because people are more educated now of the extreme risks of invasive cosmetic surgery, and so it seems logical that non-invasive, non-surgical alternatives are safer. Which couldn't be further from the truth. 

Linda Evangelista, the legendary supermodel from the 90s, who was once on every magazine cover, billboard ad and runway, seemingly disappeared into obscurity. Not even a paparazzi photo or an Instagram selfie has surfaced in years.  A lot of models retire and move on to other things but Linda's disappearance was unusual given that she seemed to stay prominent even in the 2000s. Also her 90s supermodel contemporaries from Naomi Campbell to Cindy Crawford still maintain their celebrity status to this day. 

Yesterday, Linda announced, bravely, that the reason for her unexplained absence was due to disfigurement from Coolsculpting, a non-surgical liposuction procedure that supposedly removes fat by exposing the skin to extremely cold temperatures. 


            Coolsculpting poster and device showing procedure

Specifically, Linda described that she experienced an abnormal growth of fat tissue in the areas that were treated with Coolsculpting to remove fat, known as Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia (PAH). PAH was first coined in the 2014 research study that described this phenomenon in patients who underwent cryolipolysis treatment cycles. Coolsculpting is the brand name for cryolipolysis treatment. 

Patient showing increase in fat mass seen after Coolsculpting treatment. The patient here is likely experiencing PAH. 


In her exposé, Linda discussed that the risk of PAH was never disclosed to her and therefore she was unaware that the Coolsculpting treatment would have such a severe effect on her body. What she referred to as brutal disfigurement that left her "unrecognizable," and "permanently deformed."

Linda also disclosed that she underwent multiple surgeries to correct the deformities, none of which proved successful. 

I don't blame Linda for any of what happened to her. It is not her fault and she just wanted to look her best and be happy with her appearance just like everyone else. After all, her entire life has been based on her looks.

Who I do blame are the companies who create products to profit off of people's insecurities and the charlatan doctors who mislead people into believing they're safe. I blame the photoshopped before and after images shown in doctors offices and online claiming that these procedures work. I blame Instagram and other social media for portraying edited content as real. 

The tragedy of all of this is that Linda never needed Coolsculpting. She is considered one of the greatest models of all time. Her, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford represent the upper limit of human attractiveness. Even in her later years she had a look that models half her age couldn't compete with. She was never heavy and never needed liposuction. She has always looked great. 

And now she can never go back to how she once looked. 


The point of no return

Just like how no one needs to race a motorcycle, no one needs liposuction, invasive or not. If you are overweight, you lose weight by eating less. I know there is always an excuse in America for someone's inability to lose weight, whether it is a thyroid thing, a hormone thing, or whatever else they can think of. But the inconvenient fact of the matter is that the laws of thermodynamics don't find an exception in the overweight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you are going to gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you are going to lose weight. It is a simple fact of physics that applies to everything in the universe. If you're not losing weight it is because you are eating too much and moving too little. 

But the endless excuses for weight gain and the refusal to believe that eating less is the only way to lose weight has led to the wave of "quick fix" fat-loss gimmicks and procedures we see now. These industries pander to those who want to lose weight without changing their diet and exercise habits. They also prey on healthy people mislead by social media into believing there is something wrong with their body.

Coolsculpting is one such gimmick.  It doesn't work to remove fat and as Linda Evangelista unfortunately experienced, it does the opposite by creating fat. Lose now, pay later. 

I imagine that undergoing an elective cosmetic procedure and then having permanent disfigurement has a rearview mirror sort of effect. You were once unhappy with some aspect of yourself. You get a procedure and are become disfigured permanently. And now you are always looking to the past and appreciating how you once looked, and are forever trying to just get back to how you were before.

And this is why I will never get a cosmetic procedure. There are too many things that can go wrong in life just by living. You can get cancer. You can cross the street and get hit by a car. So why add to that list something elective, cosmetic and totally unnecessary that can destroy your life? I would not be able to live with myself if I became so vain that I couldn't accept a wrinkle in my forehead, so I went and got Botox and caused my skin to permanently sag. Or I was so obsessed with Instagram beauty standards that I went and got a BBL and got tissue necrosis. Or I thought there was nothing more to life than being a sexual object for men, so I got bags of silicone implanted into my chest and then got breast cancer. 

I don't believe there is anything wrong with a little vanity, its fine to go and get a facial, splurge on makeup and skin care, and get your hair dyed. I even think a little bit of filler done safely and sparingly is ok. But I do believe there is something wrong when we risk our lives for our appearance because we want to look like someone else. And I do believe there is something seriously wrong with our culture that creates a dangerous industry around vanity.

All you have to do is go on Instagram and see that an altered look is becoming the norm. And because you do not see that backstory of that look, you are led to believe that this is safe. You do not see that the model who surgically altered her eye color went blind. You do not see that the woman who got a BBL had to undergo reconstructive surgery when her skin started to rot off. You do not see the teenage girl who became disfigured because of an unsafe filler procedure. You do not see the infant who is developmentally challenged  because its mother's breast implants made it so she couldn't breastfeed. 

I hope Linda Evangelista is successful in her lawsuit against the Coolsculpting company because this will hopefully lead to the teardown of a dangerous industry that trades life for vanity.  We are in a new age of altered looks and we are only scratching the surface of the dangers of cosmetic procedures. I hope by the end of all of this we realize that natural is better and that we can be satisfied with ourselves by healthy eating, exercise, a proper skin care regimen, and getting off social media. 



Watch the video discussion on the topic below:



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Cheng, F., Dai, S., Wang, C., Zeng, S., Chen, J., & Cen, Y. (2018). Do breast implants influence breastfeeding? A meta-analysis of comparative studies. Journal of Human Lactation34(3), 424-432.

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Plastic Surgery.