Happy Birthday to me...and my uber-toned, skintight stomach and thighs.

I just wrapped up my current issue of People Mag, with a bikini-clad (and navel-pierced) Valerie Bertinelli celebrating her 49th birthday on the cover (the Jenny Craig spokeswoman lost 50 to fit into her first bikini since age 20). With her smooth-as-cream tummy and lack of muffin top-ness (despite giving birth a few times), Bertinelli joins the elite new club of female celebs who pose nearly-nude on magazine covers to prove that even though they’re turning 41 or 43 (warning – may be NSFW unless you work in a porn studio or a shaving cream factory ), they can still rock a ‘kini. Apparently, this is THE thing to do – pump weights, cut carbs and suck it in for a nearly naked magazine cover shoot to prove you’re still sexy and desirable and fit and, I suppose, viable as a woman in today’s society.

But what do these bikini images do to the collective psyche of 35-and-up everyday women in a society where we don’t all have access to personal trainers and hired gun Photoshoppers? Just minutes after tossing my Valerie Bertinelli issue onto my health club’s magazine rack, I received an email from NeverSayDiet reader Cebca, ranting (in a good way) about the lathered up, whoops-I-dropped-my-entire outfit! pics of Cindy Crawford in this month’s Allure.

The piece she's referring to starts off “This is what 43 looks like," so right away we know this story could go one of two ways. It might be a self-affirming feature about growing older gracefully, about accepting flaws and loving wrinkles and embracing change. But when the pics that accompany this – or other “I’m 50 and fabulous!” stories – show the celeb looking like a 20-year-old coed who cold seduce a blind man with her cleavage alone, it puts readers in a bit of a conundrum. As Cebca puts it:

“I think it’s a very mixed blessing now that some models and actresses and whoever are  coming out all ‘Oh yeah, of course we have cellulite!’  I mean, okay . . . but still . . . you're a MODEL.  It's not like you take away the retouching and become the average Jane.  It's cool that Tyra Banks can broadcast her weight and make a big deal about how she still looks great even at whatever xxx lbs, but of COURSE she does, SHE’S A MODEL. There's only a limited amount of self-esteem-improvement that you can get from someone who is widely seen as one of the hottest people in the world admitting that actually she is slightly less hot than publishers would otherwise have you think.”

Interesting point, no? Indeed, in the Allure story, Crawford states, “I think I look pretty good for 43. But I don't look the way I did when I was 23. So if Star magazine or whatever wants to print a picture of me on the beach from the back, at the worst possible angle, and say that I have cellulite, I'm like, Guess what? I do, and I never said I didn't.’”

So she’s SAYING the words that so many of us so desperately want to hear – confessions that actresses and models are not all satiny-smooth perfection – but then she looks like this. (PS Why is the poor woman hanging by her hair?) Is it just lip service? Jamie Lee Curtis broke down these walls when she posed in her sportsbra and shorts - now THAT was something women could really relate to. And until I got this reader’s email, I was so gung-ho in love with celebs who spoke out about the airbrushing their pics had undergone. And I still am – I think it can be validating and reassuring. But Cebca has an excellent message: it’s validating and reassuring…to a point. But is it truly helping us when the women protest the airbrushing and scream out about their zits and bumbs and wobbly parts, but their photos depict picture-perfect bombshells nonetheless?

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