I write to you as a fan of 30 years running with the good intentions of a friend.
Recently I’ve been following your latest whirlwind press tour to promote your new album, Rebel Heart—you know, your comments about rampant ageism, your tart observations that women snicker at your appearance more than men do, and your defiant rallying cry: “This is what a 56-year-old ass looks like, motherfuckers!”
Madge—may I call you Madge?—it’s not that I disagree. We do live in a youth-obsessed world. And while I feel your pain—I’m growing older, too—I think you’ve lost the plot. We Gen X women aren’t mocking you. Rather, you’ve let us down and we’re letting you know it.
This is no easy thing to write. Is the student schooling the teacher?
Consider all I’ve learned from you over the decades: Take a holiday. Be touched for the very first time. Express yourself and live to tell about it. Get up on the dance floor. Chase that blonde ambition. Go deeper and deeper. Don’t cry for Argentina. Be quicker than a ray of light. Music brings the people together. Nothing really matters in this American life. Don’t get hung up. We only got four minutes to save the world. Love is sticky and sweet—so be an unapologetic bitch. And most of all, stay true to your rebel heart.
Through it all—the number-one hits, the husbands, the divorces, the hot backup-dancing lovers—you’ve been an undeniable female force with whom to reckon. And since Lola first arrived, followed by Rocco, David, and Mercy, a devoted mother, too.
Don’t say I haven’t hung with you, Madonna, through every incarnation. I’ve grown up with you. Fans like me may see you more clearly than you see yourself.
And here’s where the love gets tough: I think women are disappointed in you. Yep: I said the D-word. It’s a bitter pill. You should swallow it.
Because for what felt like forever—our conscious independence, anyway—you were our trailblazer. A woman who refused to be afraid. Not of her power, her sexuality, or her opinions. But then—somewhere around the time you hit the speed bump of your late forties—you let terror creep in.
You debuted a new face and it told us volumes. Did you expect us not to notice? You can’t fight to become the most famous woman in the world and then alter your visage without eliciting some chatter. New York magazine speculated on fat-fillers, eyebrow lifts, reconstruction. But we didn’t need to be told. You looked … different. Like Madonna, but not. Harder. Masked. For the first time ever, shielded.
Our hero—you!—had shown her weakness. You physically acquiesced. Madonna’s afraid to grow old! For all your ball-busting bluster, you stared into your own incredible eyes and found something lacking. You didn’t revel in your achievements—stardom, awards, wealth, four children—but picked apart your outer shell and traded it not for fame or love, but for plastic.
Instead of bucking this woman-hating trend that arose from the medical shadows a decade ago—the one that demands women look eternally 25, and that we discard our wisdom with our wrinkles and spend thousands of dollars doing so—you helped normalize it. You, who wield more power and influence than most presidents, bent to this bullshit. You fucked with your face, asking us to look at you as we’ve always done, just not too closely. Nothing screams insecurity more than elective surgery.
I think this is why a certain segment of women, the same women who have followed your career with baited breath, are being hard on you now, Madonna. Because we wanted you to show us the way. We were counting on it. How do we survive these middling years with style and grace, with panache, with punch? You, who emboldened us to to get into the groove, to feel the power of goodbye, and to believe that nothing fails, you failed to love yourself enough not to cave. Because succumbing to the knife in a pointless quest to chase youthful dewiness feels desperate. (And not in a cool, Seeking-Susan-kind-of-way.)
We’re not all ageist. Mick Jagger is a hot wrinkled mess, and on he struts before sold-out arenas, screwing anything that moves. I know; he’s a man, but Joni Mitchell, Kim Gordon, and Patti Smith, to name a few of your contemporaries, don’t measure their worth and talent in lineless skin, either.
It’s true, you are not a folk goddess, sonic alterna-songstress, or punk poet-priestess. You, in fact, have lived larger than any of these famously successful women. And women like me, your devotees, can’t afford to live in denial. We needed you to face the inevitable, to find a way, and to do it without appearing so scared. We want strong, fit, stylish, sexy, older, and most of all, secure.
It’s not that we don’t think your toned bod looks great. We know you work out for hours each day and live on a kale diet to maintain it. (Don’t you get bored? Isn’t it exhausting?) But peddling mutton as lamb gets a little sad. It’s like the screen goddess who has only ever been valued for her perfect profile; what happens to her when it crumbles?
I’ve been waiting patiently for your next “Ray of Light” epiphany. “Ray” was a reflection on motherhood and how it profoundly changes a woman’s perspective. This new breakthrough must be just as insightful, where you lose the layers of artifice and tell us how you’re really feeling. About menopause, which you must have navigated by now. Explain how, like so many of us, you feel nervous about what’s coming, what’s ending, what’s next. Perhaps you could muse on old lovers, forever spent. Or on life racing by. Or on your kids growing up and away. Admit your body—yes, even yours—fails you sometimes. As does love.
In short, Madonna, it’s not your fans who won’t allow you to grow old. We aren’t ageist. You are.