Is Madonna a victim of ageism, or is she colluding with it?

Madonna frequently complains that she is a victim of ageism, claiming “I’m Being Punished For Turning 60”. She recently posted on Instagram a series of highly sexualised semi-naked photographs of herself on, and under, a bed. The subsequent media backlash – some in support of Madonna, some not – prompted to her claiming she had been through “through four decades of censorship … sexism … ageism and misogyny.”

One photograph was of Madonna’s fishnet-clad buttocks and legs splayed out under a bed. This one in particular caused a lot of strong reaction. Anneka Rice tweeted ‘Madonna and I are exactly the same age. I presume she’s searching for her phone charger. If I tried that I’d never be able to get up again’.

Although Madonna claims she is fighting ageism, is she really? It is the age-old issue for older women: make yourself look younger to remain visible and socially valued, but be inauthentic; or show the signs of ageing, be authentic, but be invisible and culturally devalued.

Vanessa Cecil, a (mature) PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, is researching  the ‘health and wellbeing of women who find they are subject to conflicting societal messages about the changes in their appearance as they age’. She has recently written, with colleagues about gendered ageism and grey hair and how, in decided whether to dye their grey hair, older women have to choose ‘between feeling authentic and looking competent’.

Madonna has clearly gone down the ‘looking competent’ path, in overdrive. She has the money, of course, for expensive make-up, haircare, beauty treatments, facials and other surgery. This is not to deny that she does not keep herself fit, she does, of course. But a 60-something women does not look like a blonde bombshell (or an approximation of one – note the constant glove-wearing (the hands never lie) – without a lot of help.

This begs the question, why is she trying to look like a blonde-bombshell at 60? Isn’t trying to look like you’re in your 20s and 30s when you’re in your 60s a form of ageism? Isn’t it denying your age and pretending to be a younger one colluding, rather than resisting ageism?

How about being successful AND looking 60. Now that’s truly fighting ageism.

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