I was 36 then and Madonna was 54. I’d just given birth to my second child and wanted to weep at the number of playgroup conversations in which the women around me discussed the diets, workouts and cosmetic surgery required to restore their figures to perky, pre-pregnancy form. The female celebrities they saw in magazines seemed time-proof and they dutifully added this responsibility to their To Do lists.
It seemed to me that if anybody had the power to flip a big, stadium-sized, multi-platinum V sign at this rubbish it was the hero of my early teens - Madonna. She had reinvented herself so many times, inspiring girls like me with possibilities of freedom and flexibility of identity.
She gave me my first feminist lesson in embracing the reality of female bodies by blow-drying her armpits in a public restroom in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). Shortly before I saw that film, a friend of mine had provoked sniggers when she dropped a deodorant in a changing room. She flushed as the can rolled across the tiles with its shaming label promising: 'extra protection.' We were all expected to use the stuff, but to spray it discreetly, beneath the shirt, pretending we naturally smelt like whatever chemicals they put in it. And then, swaggering across the big screen came Madonna: honest about her body, owning her sweat, taking pleasure in the blast of air on her skin and looking fantastically cool in the process.
So I wanted Madonna to age like a punk: like Vivienne Westwood, flashing the wrinkles beneath the lace. I didn’t want her to stop making music or dancing in her underwear or speaking out whenever she wanted. I just wanted to her to age frankly and show me how much of a party that could be.
Which I now realise was ridiculous. Because being the world’s best-selling female artist hasn’t been a party for Madonna, has it? The self-confessed “masochist… walking alone/ never satisfied/ trying to fit in” of 2014’s 'Rebel Heart', Madonna continued to need our attention: sometimes seeking approval, sometimes being an unapologetic bitch. And she continued to be wounded by the criticism which was aimed at her more aggressively than at her male contemporaries. Sitting safely behind my keyboard with my mumtum, while the paparazzi aimed their lenses at her “wrinkled” hands, I had no right to expect her not to care. Her job was bloody hard work and I had no right to resent her for letting that show.
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