The practice of photo retouching in fashion publications renders most models completely free of blemishes or imperfections to the point of being unrealistic. But this photo of Crawford baring her sun-kissed torso is drawing praise for showing her in a realistic light.
The image comes from a cover shoot for the December 2013 issue of Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America, representatives for the Mexico-based publication said. The photo in question was not published, and spokespeople did not provide an explanation for how it surfaced last week.
"During the session that we did at that time for our edition, we proved that Cindy is an ambassador of beauty who has made history. It was a total privilege to have this fashion icon on the cover," Ariadne Grant, editor in chief of Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America, said in a news release.
"The most important thing about this news is to note the beauty that Crawford has always been, and how happy we are that she has been part of a production for Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America -- a title that shows the strength and power of real women, always respecting (their) beauty, individuality and femininity."
The image spread through social media on Friday after British ITV News anchor Charlene White
shared it on Twitter, attributing it to Marie Claire magazine. White said she first spotted the image on a friend's private Instagram feed and sought it out on Twitter. She said she found it on a fashion blog whose name she couldn't recall, and she shared the image from there.
Regardless of the photo's origins, White said, she took comfort in the image as a celebrity whose looks are constantly scrutinized.
"Women come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes," White said. "I think it's important to see all sorts of body shapes on our screens and in our magazines so that people have a true reflection of what people look like."
The American version of Marie Claire, a joint venture between Hearst Magazines and French-based Marie Claire Album, called the image real, honest and gorgeous but denied any connection to the photo.
"It appears that this unretouched version is a leak," the magazine said in an online post
"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."
The image is still resonating days later. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis was one of many to applaud the image on Twitter by sharing an image of herself in skivvies. "Bravo Cindy Crawford," she said. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all Ye need to know on earth, and all Ye need to know."
Others, however, questioned the reflex to applaud realistic depictions of women in fashion.
The response has not been entirely positive. But White said it matters not what detractors say.
"I want people to feel like magazines aren't responsible for their happiness when it comes to their bodies but magazines also have a responsibility to show us an array of images," she said.
Bottom line? "No one has the right to tell other people how to feel about their body."