Why Linda Evangelista Waited to Tell Son About Fat-Freezing Trauma: 'He Shouldn't Have to Support Me'

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the supermodel explains how her 15-year-old son Augie gave her the strength to share her private pain publicly for the first time

After decades in the spotlight as one of the world's top supermodels, Linda Evangelista has spent the past five years of her life in hiding.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the fashion icon, 56, explains for the first time why she waited so long to reveal that she's been suffering from a rare side effect of CoolSculpting, a fat-freezing body contouring procedure, that she alleges left her "brutally disfigured" and unable to work in the industry she once loved.

"I should not be a burden to my child," she tells PEOPLE of keeping her condition from those closest to her, including her son, Augie, now 15. "He shouldn't have to be supporting me. That's not his job."

For the full interview with supermodel Linda Evangelista, listen to today's special episode of PEOPLE Every Day, the daily podcast from PEOPLE:

Instead, she suffered privately in near seclusion. "No one sees me," she says, adding that for a long time she would only leave her New York City home for school events with Augie (whose father is Francois-Henri Pinault) or to walk her dog.

"[Augie] used to say, 'Mommy, do you remember when you used to be fun?' " Evangelista says. "'Remember when you used to laugh all the time? How come you don't laugh anymore?' I hate what this has done to my relationship with him."

Linda Evangelista Rollout

She adds that while she's always instilled in her son that outward appearances do not equate to real beauty, she can't seem to accept that lesson when it comes to taking inventory of her own self-worth.

"It is very important for me to raise him knowing that he is beautiful and knowing that everyone is beautiful," she says, adding through tears, "It's so messed up that I truly believe that except it doesn't pertain to me."

In September 2021, Evangelista took the first step in unveiling her truth by opening up about her cosmetic surgery nightmare and the private pain that followed in a shocking and emotional Instagram post.

"I told [Augie] he might be hearing some things, and he said he didn't care, that he's there for me," she says.

Linda Evangelista

Evangelista underwent seven sessions of CoolSculpting in a dermatologist's office from August 2015 to February 2016. The $125,000 machine was FDA-cleared in 2010 and uses a process known as cryolipolysis. Based on the way frostbite affects humans, the procedure works by placing a roll of fat between two paddles, which cool the fat to a below-freezing temperature. Studies show that the treatment — which is popular because of its accessibility at medical spas and minimal recovery time — can reduce targeted fat deposits up to 20 percent.

"I consider it a safe, effective treatment that's worthwhile and has a high patient — satisfaction rate," says Dr. Sue Ellen Cox, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, N.C., who has conducted clinical trials on behalf of CoolSculpting and says she has successfully performed the procedure thousands of times.

But there can also be serious and long-lasting side effects, ranging from "dents" in the skin to a rare condition that affects less than 1 percent of patients called paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), where the freezing process causes the affected fatty tissue to thicken and expand.

Linda Evangelista Rollout

In June 2016, Evangelista's doctor diagnosed her with PAH.

"He told me no amount of dieting, and no amount of exercise was ever going to fix it," she recalls.

Evangelista filed a lawsuit in September suing CoolSculpting's parent company, Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc., for $50 million in damages, alleging that she's been unable to work since the treatments.

In a statement to People, a representative for CoolSculpting says the procedure "has been well studied with more than 100 scientific publications and more than 11 million treatments performed worldwide" and added that rare side effects like PAH "continue to be well-documented in the CoolSculpting information for patients and health care providers."

While her case winds through the legal system, Evangelista is trying to reclaim her life — to even find the courage to cook dinner for close friends.

"I hope I can shed myself of some of the shame and help other people who are in the same situation as me," she says. "That's my goal."

Occasionally she'll dip into Instagram, where she'll find supportive comments from other supermodels. ("Your strength and true essence are forever recognizable and iconic!" Cindy Crawford cheered after Evangelista first broke her silence.) Most days she still feels uncertain about her future. But she knows one thing: "I'm not going to hide anymore."

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