Linda Evangelista, the supermodel made famous in the 1990s, said she had become “brutally disfigured” and “unrecognizable” after a cosmetic body-sculpting procedure that had turned her into a recluse.
In an Instagram post on Wednesday, she referred to filing a lawsuit, saying that she was taking “a big step towards righting a wrong that I have suffered and have kept to myself for over five years.”
She added: “To my followers who have wondered why I have not been working while my peers’ careers have been thriving, the reason is that I was brutally disfigured by Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting procedure which did the opposite of what it promised.”
Ms. Evangelista, 56, said that after the fat-freezing procedure she developed paradoxical adipose hyperplasia, a side effect in which patients develop firm tissue masses in the treatment areas.
She said the cosmetic procedure left her “permanently deformed even after undergoing two painful, unsuccessful, corrective surgeries.” She said she had not been told of the risk.
“PAH has not only destroyed my livelihood, it has sent me into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing,” she wrote. “In the process, I have become a recluse.”
Ms. Evangelista, who was known as one of the five top supermodels in the 1990s, detailed her story on Instagram, where she has 912,000 followers and where thousands of people commented or expressed support. Her story was also widely covered in international and national media outlets.
Ms. Evangelista filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Zeltiq Aesthetics Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The suit said she was seeking compensatory damages of $50 million for her distress and loss of work, promotions and public appearances.
Representatives for the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. A lawyer for Ms. Evangelista was not immediately available for comment.
The lawsuit said Ms. Evangelista had seven treatments from August 2015 through February 2016 to break down fat cells in her abdomen, flanks, back and bra area, inner thighs, and chin. Within a few months, she developed “hard, bulging, painful masses under her skin in those areas,” it said, and was given a diagnosis of PAH in June 2016.
The filing said her quality of life, her career and her body “were all ruined in 2016 after she was permanently disfigured” by the procedure and the multiple attempts at corrective surgery that followed.
“Ms. Evangelista enjoyed a wildly successful and lucrative modeling career from 1984 through 2016, until she was permanently injured and disfigured by Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting System,” the lawsuit said.
The suit accused the company of having “intentionally concealed” the risks or “failed to adequately warn” about them, and said Ms. Evangelista developed depression and a fear of going outside.
Ms. Evangelista had full body liposuctions after the diagnosis by a doctor referred to her by Zeltiq in 2016 and 2017, but the procedures were unsuccessful and resulted in scarring, the lawsuit said.
“Ms. Evangelista was promised a more contoured appearance; instead, the target fat cells actually increased in number and size and formed hard, bulging masses under her skin,” it said.
According to CoolSculpting, its procedure has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of visible fat bulges.
In response to questions, the F.D.A. said in an email that it could not comment on litigation, but that it was “committed to ensuring medical devices are safe and effective and that patients can be fully informed when making personal health decisions.” It said that it monitors reports from consumers of adverse events after a device reaches the market and would “take action where appropriate.”
Cryolipolysis, the name of the nonsurgical fat-freezing procedure, uses cold temperature to break down fat cells, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
It is mostly used by patients who want to reduce a specific fat bulge that they have been unable to diminish through other means. Generally, the area of concern is “vacuumed” into the hollow of an applicator, where it is subjected to cold temperature.
The surgeons’ society said the complication rate was low, with less than 1 percent of patients who may develop paradoxical fat hyperplasia, which is an unexpected increase in the number of fat cells. The side effect is more common in men than in women, the society said.
Ms. Evangelista also said that the public scrutiny of her appearance had harmed her emotionally. “I have been left, as the media has described, ‘unrecognizable,’” she said.