I don’t usually wade into discussions about fashion, style and pop culture because I have always been the least fashionable gay man around. To this day, I have to remember to take a look at myself in a full-length mirror every morning to make sure I don’t have buttons missing or holes in my pants or some other such stupid thing that befalls me from time to time as I walk into work and someone points out that I have buttoned my shirt lop-sidedly. I really only recently took to heart the fact that I should not wear blue and black together — a habit that used to drive one of my exes to distraction.
But this thing with Madonna and the Grammys has been too much to take without saying something.
If you’ve not heard, Madonna has a new look — including a bold new face — that she unveiled as she came out on Grammys night to introduce Sam Smith and Kim Petras, a nonbinary performer and a trans woman. The 64-year-old singer’s new look has brought about the most vicious round of sexist, ageist commentary I’ve seen emanate from otherwise progressive cultural observers.
An op-ed in the New York Times had this to say:
In the wake of the Grammys, people complain she no longer looks like Madonna, but which Madonna comes to mind? She’s been a blonde and a brunette, butch and high femme. She’s worn castoffs and couture. She’s adopted and abandoned an English accent. She’s shown us her roots and her underwear, deliberately putting the hidden parts on display. Every new version of Madonna was both a look and a commentary on looking, a statement about the artifice of beauty, and about her own right to set the terms by which she was seen.
“I have never apologized for any of the creative choices I have made nor the way that I look or dress and I’m not going to start,” she wrote on her Instagram on Tuesday. “I am happy to do the trailblazing so that all the women behind me can have an easier time in the years to come.”
The latest look is not altogether novel. Back in 2008, New York magazine declared: “Out with the gaunt and tight, in with the plump and juicy. There’s a new face in town — and it’s a baby’s.” The article’s prime example was Madonna herself, whose refurbished face it compared to a restuffed saddle. But fashion is fickle. In 2019, Elle reported that “toddler-round cheeks, tumescent pouts and immobile foreheads” were “officially over.” Last week, “The Cut” called it again, with a feature on how the “sexy baby” look died.
Is it possible that Madonna has been so blinkered by her fame and wealth that she’s lost the ability to see herself objectively, like Michael Jackson pursuing an ever-thinner nose or Jocelyn Wildenstein doing … whatever it was she was doing? Yes, but whatever her intentions, the superstar has gotten us talking about how good looks are subjective and how ageism is pervasive.
In the end, whether she meant to make a statement or just to look younger, better, “refreshed,” almost doesn’t matter. If beauty is a construct, Madonna’s the one who put its scaffolding on display.
That is one of the nicer op-eds I’ve run across since Madonna’s appearance on the awards show.
That so much of the bile has come from gay men who should know better has been interesting and disconcerting to watch, especially since Madonna introduced those non-binary and trans performers that night.
Many of these gay men would never, I will hazard a guess, question the plastic surgery choices of a trans person. Why would they then do it a an older woman fully capable of making these decision on her own?
“Madonna clearly has an issue with plastic surgery and does not know when to stop,” I had one gay man say on my Facebook page. “She clearly needs an intervention. Encouraging her, or acting as if she does not have a problem, is not doing her any favors.”
This is, of course, foisting onto Madonna one person’s version of how women should look. Trans people know what this is like because of lot of surgically altered trans people know all too well that they do not necessarily — some do, some don’t — fit into the mold of what represents ideal classic Western male or female beauty.
Should we stop them from having plastic surgery because the results don’t match our expectations?
Then there is the issue of ageism. Somehow having plastic surgery because it’s medically necessary is seen as more acceptable than plastic surgery done purely for aesthetic reasons, especially if only because of perceived “vanity” or “being afraid of growing old.”
This runs us headlong into the many double standards that confront the aged. You can want big breasts or a smaller nose when you are 24, but when you’re 64, plastic surgery is a sign of deep personal brokenness.
You’re damned if you do or damned if you don’t when it comes to growing old.
Keep all your wrinkles and flabby old chins, and people think you look like shit. Try to get rid of them and you’re still said to look like shit.
Why would anyone, but especially Madonna, feel an obligation to live up to ridiculous standards like that?
Let’s also remember that Madonna’s net worth as of 2022 is said to have been $850 million.
This is before she kicked off her Celebration tour, which sold 600,000 tickets in one day.
She has had to add more than 20 dates to the 37 existing tour dates as of 1/20/23. Before that, her tour was 98% sold out. At some of the largest concert venues in the world.
Clearly her fans don’t care about her age or her decisions about how she looks.
And Madonna herself seems just as capable now as she has ever been about what decisions will help her to remain, after all these years and her untold number of detractors, the Queen of Pop.