Fashion & Beauty

Makeover Magic

October 24, 2022


Photos here and on the front rom the CoolSculpting website.

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

CALL ME MACABRE (‘tis the season after all) but, even a year later, I want to know what supermodel Linda Evangelista’s “brutal disfigurement” looks like. (The only google images that come up show her looking like an attractive woman of normal weight.) I’m a little ashamed of my curiosity, though not so ashamed that I won’t bring it up here. I absolutely believe Evangelista is entitled to privacy and shouldn’t have to process her trauma publicly; I’d just like some perspective. Is her idea of disfigurement the same as mine? To be clear, I don’t mean to challenge the validity of her suffering. Because suffering is suffering. But I’m curious from an . . . experiential point of view. Which raises a different question: Am I a monster?

If you don’t remember what happened, here it is in a nutshell: Over the course of several months, Evangelista was treated with a device called CoolSculpting, which freezes localized areas of fat, killing the fat cells and presumably slimming the spots (on Evangelista, the thighs, abdomen, flanks, and chin) that are otherwise difficult to slenderize. Instead of the preferred outcome, she had a rare (or maybe, it turns out, not so rare) side effect: The treated areas took on the hard, protruded shape of the device—a rectangular bar—that proved, even after surgeries, impossible to eliminate. You can read an excellent informative account here and a perceptive analysis of the situation here.

Evangelista’s dilemma pushed a lot of buttons for a lot of people, including in those sensitive, Puritanical souls who believe it’s not nice to f*ck with Mother Nature—especially when Mother Nature has created such a ravishing creature as Linda Evangelista. I’m not (obviously) squatting in that austere camp, as, bottom line, Evangelista’s job description made her a perfect candidate for aesthetic upkeep/maintenance. It’s not logical, never mind not fair, to blame a person for making a choice that might improve her career prospects. And though it’s been said many times, it’s also not been said enough that a culture (that’d be ours) that encourages or demands a person to undergo any kind of procedure to effect or imitate an approximation of youth or perfection is a deeply unhealthy culture. (See my related observations about Jane Fonda here and a few other observations about beauty culture here.)

My nasty desire to see Evangelista’s nasty outcome led me down what at first seemed to be a more primrose path toward beauty makeovers, of which I did many when I was beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine. (Now that I think of it, I was also the subject of one at Parents Magazine not long after giving birth to my son. A well-known stylist cut off most of my hair, as I remember it, and when I went to my mommies group soon after, one of the—more acid—mommies looked at me appraisingly before saying, “M. did that to you?”)

Here’s the thing about makeovers: We’re obsessed with them. Just think of the avalanche of shows featuring makeovers of all kinds, from beauty to architecture to lifestyle. In the beauty makeovers we did at O, The Oprah Magazine, we were very careful to remind our subjects that we weren’t in business to “fix” them, as they didn’t need fixing, but were instead going to encourage and emphasize the beauty we knew they already possessed. Certainly, it was only a tweak in the “bad to better” model, but we made sure our made-overs were happy and could, without further interference, maintain some version of their new look on their own. I’m sounding defensive here: We really did try to bring tongue-in-cheekiness to the process. For one feature we photographed the women in “before” mug shots (thanks @therealadamsays) and I wrote the story as if they were characters in a film noir. Each crime had something to do with hairstyle and proportion, I think. We did have fun, all of us; the subjects were treated by world-class stylists, and I can’t remember anyone who didn’t enjoy the outcome. That’s the point of participating in any beauty ritual: for fun . . . right?

No, not only for fun. Why do we love the makeover? Is it simply because we believe we’re transitioning to an “improved” version of ourselves, in the uber-American style of chasing improvement always? Because certain experts are able to see us in a way only they can—like criminals, wink, wink—and so can recover our hidden assets? Are experts our good fairies who help shepherd us from aesthetic pubescence into fully developed beauties? Probably all of the above. The wish for transformation can of course also be motivated by darker forces: the need to conform to unrealistic beauty standards, or to feel validated, or visible, or to compete in one’s field.

Still, the prospect of renewal, of possibility, of looking dissolution in the face and saying F-you—that’s one way we can try to satisfy the achingly poignant desire to forget that we all carry an expiration date. Getting a new hairstyle that brings out our cheekbones or rearranging the furniture in our living room (or in our head) can give us a fresh, even clearer vision of ourselves, of the open road, a different perspective on the inevitability of change. Fashioning the change ourselves, we might feel we have some control over it. When the outcome conforms to or even exceeds our expectations, sweet! The trouble is that when it doesn’t (or is perhaps forever doomed to fall short), as Evangelista’s story demonstrates, it can feel less like a treat than a cruel, mean-spirited trick.

One thought on “Makeover Magic

  1. Nancy G says:

    Great column. I always thought a “make over” was to enhance what you already have. Taking you and making you better with either a new hairstyle or well placed cosmetics. I’m not quite ready for surgery, or even something as lightly invasive as Coolsculpting. Given Linda Evangelista’s career, though, as you mentioned, this is understandable.

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