(CNN)Actress Sharon Stone is drawing praise for baring all -- emotionally and physically -- in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar.
Sharon Stone's nude photos stoke controversy
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The spread, "Sharon Stone Reveals All," features flawless images of the 57-year-old nude except for Jimmy Choo stilettos and designer jewelry. The images accompany an article in which she recounts her struggle to revive her career after a debilitating brain hemorrhage in 2001.
She says the experience taught her to capitalize on aspects of her identity other than her sex appeal, culminating in her latest project, "Agent X," a new TNT series debuting this fall in which she plays the vice president of the United States.
"I thought, 'You know what? I got thrown off the bullet train, and now I'm going to have to crawl up a hill of broken glass, get back on the train that's going a million miles an hour, and work my way from the cattle car up," she tells journalist Christopher Bagley.
"That's just the way it is, so I'd better get humble and shut the f--k up and do the job. Because if I can't do this job, I'm certainly not going to be able to do anything else.' "
The article notes that Stone maintains a "frank approach to her sex appeal" more than two decades after first appearing in Playboy in an attempt to jumpstart her career.
"Everybody said I wasn't sexy and I couldn't get jobs because of it," she recalls.
It paid off, and Stone rose to fame in 1992 by playing seductive serial killer Catherine Trammel in director Paul Verhoeven's "Basic Instinct." In one memorable scene, she flashes her crotch while being questioned by a detective played by Michael Douglas. She followed up with the role of a gangster's wife in 1995's "Casino," receiving an best actress Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for best dramatic performance by an actress.
Then, a cerebral hemorrhage in 2001 left Stone stuttering, limping and unable to read. Her marriage and career deteriorated as she struggled to recover physically. "Basic Instinct 2" was a flop, and a series of public gaffes made her the butt of talk show jokes and a regular tabloid target.
On the plus side, she says, "I became more emotionally intelligent. I chose to work very hard to open up other parts of my mind. Now I'm stronger."
As the images suggest, she's still not afraid to harness her sex appeal. The images drew accolades from readers for rocking a hot body well into her 50s.
"I'm aware that my ass looks like a bag of flapjacks," she said. "But I'm not trying to be the best-looking broad in the world. At a certain point you start asking yourself, 'What really is sexy?' It's not just the elevation of your boobs. It's being present and having fun and liking yourself enough to like the person that's with you.
"If I believed that sexy was trying to be who I was when I did 'Basic Instinct,' then we'd all be having a hard day today."
Her words rang hollow to others who questioned their placement alongside nude photos presumably intended to sell magazines and generate publicity. Many speculated the images were retouched and accused Stone of perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards.
As one reader said, "The problem is that women see these Photoshopped and airbrushed images of women and think that they can attain it with plastic surgery, lasers, and injections that only make them look worse. Time for advertisers and photo magazines to show real women images, and not fake, lying Photoshop fakes."
Some media critics cautioned against making her a symbol of empowerment (or otherwise) for women, especially if that's not the position she takes up in the article.
"She doesn't claim to be making a feminist choice. She says very plainly 'I'm trying to show that I still have what it takes, and in the contemporary world of acting for women, this is what that looks like,'" said Occidental University Sociology Professor Lisa Wade, who writes about sex, media and gender issues.
"She is using the same strategy that has been successful for her for the length of her career, which is the culmination of being an excellent actress and selling sex appeal. The article states it very plainly."
Even if the photos have been retouched, it's unfair to single out Stone as "the woman to save us from Photoshopping," Wade said.
"If she was Photoshopped she's taking advantage of the same tools everyone takes advantage of in the industry," she said.
"It's reasonable to criticize what Sharon Stone is doing as capitulating to the patriarchy because she's making a clear and implicit statement that the way for her to get her career back is to pose nude. But we all bargain with the patriarchy. At least she's being straightforward about how she's claiming to get her career back and I don't think there's anything particularly new or unique or interesting about what doing," Wade said.
"If anything, I appreciate her honesty about it."