By now, you know the story: Linda Evangelista, one of the most iconic supermodels ever to stomp a runway, underwent CoolSculpting that she said left her disfigured and led to her hiding away from the world for the past five years. But she’s dipping a toe back into the modeling world, and somehow, Anna Wintour let British Vogue scoop the mothership.

It’s not like Vogue hasn’t been busy; it broke Serena’s retirement, did a really lively spread with Emma Corrin, and photographed a pregnant Rihanna. But in addition to being Beyonce’s Vogue of choice, the British fashion bible has historically made more interesting cover choices with regard to age — Judi Dench, Kristen McMenamy — and got the nod from Naomi Campbell to introduce her child to the world. Given those factors, it tracks that Edward Enninful would give this space to Linda Evangelista, but it’s still surprising to me that he got there first — and astonishing that Vogue: Original Flavor once again allowed itself to be an afterthought, a second-best option, in the industry it once defined.

The profile and its photos are intriguing, poignant, and something to ponder. It’s by design that she’s largely covered in these pictures, but for the face that made her famous — the part she feels she can wield with the most confidence. On the one hand, Linda’s experience is a bracing look at the pressures exerted upon women who feel their livelihoods depend on their looks, and the psychological scars such a life can leave.

How she looks is her currency. And, one imagines, when you are blessed with such exceptional beauty, to watch that fade or change or become misshapen – and for the world to witness it, too – must be an even heavier cross to bear.

Probably, being that beautiful you would do everything you could to try to preserve it – for yourself sure, but perhaps also in some warped way for everyone else who will forever compare you to the impossible ideals of your Vogue covers and campaign images. In Linda’s case, in choosing to undergo treatments, she has also unintentionally highlighted the pressures and potential risks of beauty culture.

“Those CoolSculpting commercials were on all the time, on CNN, on MSNBC, over and over, and they would ask, ‘Do you like what you see in the mirror?’ They were speaking to me. It was about stubborn fat in areas that wouldn’t budge. It said no downtime, no surgery and… I drank the magic potion, and I would because I’m a little vain,” she admits. “So I went for it – and it backfired.”

But one could argue, and Linda herself does in a way here, that these photos themselves still peddle the unattainable. The catch is that she doesn’t mind that so much:

She is keen to make clear that for this Vogue cover and fashion story, make-up artist Pat McGrath gently drew her face, jaw and neck back with tape and elastics. “That’s not my jaw and neck in real life – and I can’t walk around with tape and elastics everywhere.” I wonder how healthy this process might be for anyone grappling with body positivity, but also for Linda herself – to alter her own reality at a time when she is trying to recover her confidence. One gets the sense that she acknowledges it, too.

“You know what, I’m trying to love myself as I am, but for the photos…” she pauses for a moment to carefully choose her words. “Look, for photos I always think we’re here to create fantasies. We’re creating dreams. I think it’s allowed. Also, all my insecurities are taken care of in these pictures, so I got to do what I love to do.”

I respect that Linda came at this with so much honesty, willingly puncturing the fantasy even if she wasn’t yet comfortable revealing her full reality. And she is clearly aware of the tug-of-war she’s laying out between needing to accept herself as-is, and indulging the fantasy and vanity that drove her to the disastrous treatment in the first place. It resonates even if you are not Linda Evangelista. Who among us would turn down a little digital help if it were our face on the newsstands? Would any of us balk at the chance to live in the fantasy, even for a moment, even if it only truly mattered to us? Add in her specific trauma, and the public life that matters to a whole lot of very loud people, and whew, I’d be awfully seduced by a chance to create the dream, too.

The photos here are those British Vogue chose to distribute, but please treat yourself to them all. It is a parade of giant hats and it is EXCELLENT.

[Photos by Steven Maisel; the September edition of British Vogue is available on newsstands and via digital download on Tuesday, Aug 23]