Madonna, loud critic of ageism ... what in hell have you done?

Madonna is a victim of our looks-obsessed society, says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Madonna, loud critic of ageism ... what in hell have you done?

Madonna introduces a performance by Sam Smith and Kim Petras at the 65th annual Grammy Awards. Her appearance sparked lots of debate online.

IT’S easy to mock Madonna for looking preposterous for a 64-year old.

As the photos of her that emerged from the Grammy Awards show, this is a woman who is not ageing gracefully.

With her unfeasibly smooth forehead, plumped up cheeks, and enhanced thick lips, she’s like Joan Rivers on steroids. It’s not a good look.

Why did this icon apparently succumb to cosmetic procedures when she rails against ageism and misogyny, as she did in response to those that castigated her appearance at the Grammys?

In fact, the singer has given in to ageism, which often comes from misogynistic notions of what women should look like.

Madonna can’t win in the kind of society we live in, where female stars are scrutinised to see if they’ve ‘had work done’. If the work is obvious and suggests something approaching a botch job, the public and the media are unforgiving. It’s a bit like being in a school yard, making fun of the odd one out. It’s cruel and mean.

It seems that what we really want to see is stars that have been blessed with good genes that allow them to age without any major intervention. A nip and tuck here and there is fine, once it’s not noticeable. Just continue looking beautiful, seems to be the demand.

Never one to miss an opportunity for expressing ludicrous self-importance, Madonna said, in response to the criticism of her appearance last week: “I have been degraded by the media since the beginning of my career, but I understand that this is all a test and I am happy to do the trailblazing so that all the women behind me can have an easier time in the years to come.”

What trailblazing is she talking about?

Yes, she’s a global phenomenon who has made a lot of money and many headlines in a career based on a mediocre singing voice and a sometimes tarty look.

But will she ever hang up her fishnets and go quietly into the night to enjoy some much deserved rest and dare I say it – retirement?

Madonna, you have nothing to prove at this stage. It’s okay to slow down in your sixties and smell the roses. But La Ciccone has never been one to take it easy.

Perhaps her forthcoming world tour, taking in 35 cities, will be her swansong. But I doubt it. She doesn’t seem like the kind of gal who can exist without the affirmation of her fans, the attention and the power she wields in her career.

There was a time, back in the ’80s and ’90s, when I liked Madonna. I admired her sassiness. I thought the conical bras worn on the outside, subverting the whole sex symbol playbook, was pretty original. I loved her 1985 film, Desperately Seeking Susan, in which she played a bohemian drifter on the make.

But Madonna has sadly become a parody of a desperate star, seeking eternal youth, sometimes spotted with toy boys, mostly looking like a good reason for staying au natural. She is/was a good-looking woman. Why the refusal to just embrace her seventh decade without going under the cosmetic surgeon’s scalpel?

Madonna is, in effect, a victim of our looks-obsessed society where young girls use filters on their phone photos to enhance their features.

Glamour magazine spoke to Anita Bhagwandas, a beauty director and author of UGLY: Giving Us Back Our Beauty Standards. She was asked what does ageing gracefully actually mean?

Anita’s response is that it refers to “ageing with some cosmetic intervention to still be agreeable to the male gaze, but not too much that you seem desperate, or that it’s noticeable.”

She also writes that the societal obsession with youth “might seem focused around lines or wrinkles” but that it actually hides a bigger truth. “It’s about how we are more visible and admired when we are young, how youth is celebrated in all areas of society.”

Thankfully, there are some women in the public eye that do not appear to have resorted to mutilation to serve impossible standards of youthful looking beauty as they age. They include Isabella Rossellini, Ali McGraw, Jamie Lee Curtis and Andie McDowell.

Maybe they’ve had a little bit of subtle work done. I’d like to think not. Because they are all beautiful in their own way, comfortable in their skin, not beholden to society’s hard-to-meet strictures for how females should look in middle-age.

Meanwhile, male rockers can look grisly as they age, such as Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop. But no newspaper columns are devoted to how they look and whether they’ve gone under the knife. It isn’t fair.

Women are under so much pressure.

None more so than Madonna, who insists she remains ‘hot’ when wearing slippers by the fire.

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