Cindy Crawford and what real women look like

Story highlights

  • Carol Costello: We all know that real women won't be able to sell magazines
  • While people are praising Cindy Crawford's unaltered photo, the truth is that retouched photos won't go away

Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)I don't know what a "real woman" is supposed to look like.

Everybody keeps telling me Cindy Crawford -- who always looked unreal -- is suddenly "real" because an unretouched photo of her leaked on Twitter. I'm sure you, like millions of others, have seen it by now. In the picture, Crawford is posing and rocking a feathery thing in what looks like her underwear. And, wow, she doesn't look perfect. She still looks gorgeous, but OMG she's flawed.
The image came from a photo shoot from 2013 with Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America. The U.S. edition of Marie Claire is thrilled. "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."
    Oh, Marie Claire -- how big of you!
    We all know you don't actually believe real women sell magazines. Sadly, Crawford's husband doesn't seem to think so either. Shortly after that unaltered picture of Crawford hit the Internet, Rande Gerber shared a picture of his bikini-clad wife lounging by the pool. No age spots in that photo. Girl looked 25.
    Carol Costello
    I must admit it was refreshing, though, to read the many, many comments from women around the world taking comfort in the imperfect Cindy. Vickie wrote on my Facebook page: "This is how all Mom's look. A little pouch tummy, tan lines, flawed skin, and we still look great. Seeing this makes me feel better about how I look. It's a shame "beauty" mags have to alter these kinds of pics at all."
    Vickie, I hear you loud and clear, but you've gone mad! I don't know about you, but the first time I picked up Seventeen Magazine at the age of 12, I realized I was way too chubby and my skin already looked like leather. When I graduated to the high fashion magazines, I discovered my body had to look unreal to be sexy.
    It still does. Why do you think that photo of Kim Kardashian-with-a-glass-of-champagne-on-her-rear almost broke the Internet?
    Besides, a good chunk of Americans deride what's real. The National Enquirer loves to regale us with truly awful pictures of stars with cellulite, back fat and dark roots. And the captions underneath don't say, "Wow, ain't she sexy!"
    Try googling "unretouched photo" and see what you get. A veritable potpourri of supposedly unaltered photos of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey and even Justin Bieber. (That's my fave -- the re-toucher enhanced his, um, attribute.)
    Some magazines are trying. Like Sports Illustrated. Recently it featured an impossibly slender, busty, hairless woman with her pants down on its cover, but inside -- and SI says this is historic -- there is a "real" woman. And, by that, SI means, "plus-sized."
    As Deadspin so wonderfully put it: "SI Nobly Accepts Ad Money To Put Normal-Sized Woman In Swimsuit Issue." Hmmm, maybe next year SI will put her on the cover. I wouldn't bet the farm on that one.
    Perhaps the most honest assessment of the whole Cindy Crawford uproar came from a co-worker who shall remain nameless. She told me her eyes went directly to Crawford's stomach and then to her sun-damaged skin. In other words, she noticed Crawford's flaws first and fixated on them, just as she fixates on her own flaws every morning when she looks into the mirror.
    I do it, too.
    And that's the thing, right? Those retouched photos that we're accustomed to seeing have invaded women's psyches and held us up to impossibly unrealistic standards.
    So it was a moment of surprise and relief that when I showed that unaltered picture of Cindy Crawford to my husband. He didn't notice her flaws. He simply said, "Wow, she looks great!"
    No wonder I love him.