Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards in January. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

The unretouched photo of Cindy Crawford that surfaced last week has given us an opportunity to change the national conversation around beauty and aging. Here’s hoping the former ’80s supermodel seizes it.

The leaked image, part of a December 2013 Marie Claire shoot, shows Crawford striking the same kind of pose — mouth slightly open, legs slightly apart, black lace and bare midriff — that made her a household name. Except Crawford, who turned 49 on Friday, has changed. The smooth tautness of youth has been replaced. She is still fit, but her skin tells stories of time and children across the length of her form.

“It is real, it is honest, and it is gorgeous,” the magazine says on its Web site. “No matter where the photo came from, it’s an enlightenment — we’ve always known Crawford was beautiful, but seeing her like this only makes us love her more.”

There may be love there, but I think the relationship is more complicated. I know my response to the photo has been. It is not the kind of picture Marie Claire would publish. It is not the kind of image the magazine-buying public is conditioned to emulate.

Crawford helped set a standard of beauty, desirability and unattainable perfection that her middle-aged self now suffers from in comparison.

She has been quoted in her 40s as saying, “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford. . . . The expectation to be beautiful always bothers me.” Except even in the Marie Claire picture, she is still beautiful. Put her back in a dress and she’s the hotness at the party. Put her in the bikini and, as a friend said to me, we’re having a national debate over almost imperceptible blemishes.

For me, that debate pales in comparison with the cacophony of internal voices that Crawford helped fuel, that constantly tell young women they’ll never be enough.

My desire to defend Crawford is tinged with memories of standing behind a young girl in an amusement park line and listening as she talked about needing to suck the fat from the area between her swimsuit strap and her shoulder blade. I saw no fat there. But there is no money in telling women and girls that they are fine just the way they are. Note: Department store beauty-product sales generated $11.2 billion last year, according to market-research firm NPD Group.

Crawford “doesn’t look that bad,” someone tweeted, but the deeper truth is that she probably wasn’t perfect at the peak of her career. The industry’s tricks with makeup, lighting and photography produce unreal images — and that’s what women chase to the ends of their money and sanity.

Crawford was part of that unboundaried industry, and so be it. In America, you get to use what you have to get what you want. But the picture could represent a potential shift, and here’s hoping Crawford sees that.

“You want her to have a bit of a feminist moment right now,” says Michaela Angela Davis, a Brooklyn-based image activist and editorial brand manager of Centric TV.

“This is another level for her to be more complex, more nuanced, more interesting. Another level of womanhood, and she should own it,” Davis says. “Who you were is never going to happen again, so who you are is the best place for you to be. Chasing who you were, that’s just such a sad, victim-y position.”

Crawford has made no public comment on the photo, but husband Rande Gerber tweeted a picture of her, clad in a bikini on a lounger, looking her usual flawless self for Valentine’s Day. I wanted to yell, “Enough!”

I want her to show up unretouched and say, “Look here, baby, this is how I look now, and don’t get it twisted. I’m still fabulous.”

The former supermodel might be feeling it, but we need her and the beauty industry to say it. Over and over and over.

Instead, the message seems to be: You didn’t see what you thought you saw.

Perfect is the only black.

It’s a message women have been negotiating with, or falling prey to, our whole lives. Crawford knows this. She banked on it. She maybe just thought she’d never be a victim.

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