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Why Can’t An Iconic Rebel Like Madonna Embrace Aging?

Photo: Denis Markarenko / Shutterstock, Instagram  

I love Madonna.

I grew up watching her in the ’80s. With her punk hairstyle, cropped shirt, and fingerless gloves, she was mega cool.

A symbol of female rebellion, she wasn’t afraid to stir controversy with songs like Papa Don’t Preach in 1986 about teenage pregnancy. Critics slammed her for it, but she didn’t care.

No doubt, Madonna was a woman who didn’t let society hammer her down into their version of what a woman should do or look like.

She taught us to be our authentic selves, no matter what.

That was Madonna. She worked very, very hard, strived for perfection, and flipped a middle finger at conformity.

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Madonna now

When I think of Madonna now, I think of what is known as the Instagram Face. Jia Tolentino, a writer for The New Yorker described it best:

"It’s a young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips. It looks at you coyly but blankly."

Madonna now has that cyborgian look. It’s what youngsters seem to strive for nowadays.

A face filter allows that. You can change your face — get thinner cheeks, smoother skin, longer eyelashes, a smaller nose, and even fewer undereye bags.

If that’s not enough, cosmetic surgery is now more accessible and affordable than ever. It’s no longer a taboo. Actually, it’s become somewhat of a women’s empowerment movement.

Madonna has had one too many of these cosmetic surgeries, although she has never admitted to it.

When I look at the picture above, what I see is a woman insecure about aging and desperately grasping at an attempt to look youthful, to stay relevant.

It’s perfectly understandable why she would get work done on her face.

There’s pressure — tremendous pressure — in the entertainment business for women to reverse aging and stay youthful. Women, like Madonna, who don’t act their age are mocked and ridiculed.

I’m all for her not acting or dressing like her age.

What I have a problem with is the societal impact of her altered face — an unrealistic face devoid of wrinkles, facial expressions, and blemishes.


The Madonna I grew up with and the Madonna now seem to be in conflict with each other.

The bottom line is that she bowed down to patriarchy. Didn’t you expect someone like her to reject the notion of cosmetic surgery even if it was just to prove a point?

It’s not like she doesn’t understand the powerful effect her actions have on our culture.

In 1993, she told The LA Times that she thinks “presenting my point of view about life, whether it’s about sexual equality or anti-homophobia, is a political statement. I know it has an impact.”

Yet, she doesn’t seem to understand or seem to care about the impact her many cosmetic surgeries have on society as a whole.

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In 2012, she said, “I am certainly not against plastic surgery. However, I am absolutely against having to discuss it.”

I guess she’s saying that it’s none of our business what she does to her face and body. As an influential figure to many young girls and women, don’t you think that it is our business?

I’m reminded of a quote in the movie, Spiderman where he says “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Madonna is that great power.

It’s like by refusing to talk about cosmetic surgery, she is implying that it’s a private matter. Like what she used to symbolize for the women’s movement is nullified.

And, she’s okay with that because that’s what girl power is about — the freedom for women to do whatever the hell they want to do.

I don’t buy that.

Madonna has been in the spotlight for the last four decades. Her opinion counts. Her stance on female beauty matters.

Look at the numbers. An overwhelming number of teenagers — 46% — have considered cosmetic surgery and 44% of women over the age of 60 feel the same.

The age group most affected by self-esteem issues due to social media use is 10–14 years old. Yep, you heard that correctly. 10–14.

Celebrities exude a tremendous amount of influence when it comes to appearance, especially on young girls and women.

Cosmetic surgery has become normalized in our society — that’s dangerous.


How cool would it have been if Madonna had refused any type of cosmetic surgery and chose to age naturally?

Imagine the amount of influence she could have exerted on both young and older women.

I guarantee you that she would have garnered a loyal following of women, including me, bowing at her feet for her courage to stand up to patriarchy and peer pressure.

That kind of strength is contagious, powerful, and what legends are made of. It would have reached an audience beyond her lifespan.

Madonna is phenomenal — she has sold 300 million albums. She still holds the title of the highest-grossing solo touring artist in Billboard Boxscore history.

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She’s in the Guinness Book World Records for the best-selling female recording artists of all time.

Now, add to that, the courage to age. Boom! Now, that’s a powerful mix.

Embracing aging

Our society tells us every day in the form of media and pop culture that sexuality is for young and beautiful girls. We internalize this message. It becomes our guiding light.

The good news is that there are celebrities refusing to bend to this trend. Pink, 42, another revolutionary singer, said on Twitter:

"I’m fortunate because I’ve never really depended on my looks. I’ve decided that my talent and my individuality are far more important than my face."

So get on board cause I am about to AGE THE OL FASHIONED WAY!

That’s refreshing, isn’t it?

Actress Emma Thompson, 63, said in her interview with Hello Magazine that she’s worried about how cosmetic surgery will affect the future of our society.

She said it suggests to “young people, girls, and boys, that this looks normal. And it’s not normal…it’s a form of collective psychosis.”

Another actress firmly against cosmetic surgery is Meryl Streep, 73. She told Good Housekeeping that she’s seen it go wrong for too many of her peers and elaborated on the importance of embracing the “gift” of aging.

I just don’t get it. You have to embrace getting older. Life is precious, and when you’ve lost a lot of people, you realize each day is a gift.

But a handful of celebrities rebelling against cosmetic surgery isn’t enough. Ideally, more influential celebrities will talk about aging naturally.

Maybe somewhere inside Madonna is still that Italian-American girl with thick eyebrows, popping eye-shadow, and a raging attitude.

Kudos to that girl— she did teach us to be true to ourselves.

Well, until we get old.

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June Kirri is a writer on culture, parenting, and mental health.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.