LESSONS FROM M: HOW THE MATERIAL GIRL MAKES IT EASIER TO TURN 40
Lessons From Madonna
How the Material Girl makes it easier to turn 40.
Apr 24, 2010
By Raina Kelley
I’m turning 40 in a week. But I have no plans … I was thinking of staying home and compulsively turning the lights on and off like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. What else is there to do? I don’t want to be 40 but, as my dad says, what’s the alternative? So I’ve decided to sulk. Really, this is not an elaborate public manipulation to get Steve Jobs to pity me and send me an iPad. Well, it’s not just an elaborate manipulation, since an iPad would make me feel better. Seriously, the number 40 is sitting on my chest like a lead weight. Those of you who read my column regularly will know that I am extremely dramatic and unusually self-obsessed, even for a journalist. So trust me, I used to like nothing better than my birthday. Over the years, I’ve thrown parties in my own honor so elaborate, they make the Super Bowl halftime show look like amateur hour. People are still shaking their heads about my 27th at that bowling alley near NYU. There are drag shows that don’t use that many feathers. So the fact that I’m willing to let this birthday go by without so much as a drink after work is a worrying sign that a nervous breakdown is looming. And I don’t have time for a mental collapse—I have a toddler.
So just when I feel like curling up on the floor with some Dulcolax and a bottle of moonshine, who should come to my rescue? That’s right, the Material Girl. I watched last week’s Glee Madonna episode twice with my mouth agape. I have no idea what happened plotwise—somebody lost their virginity, somebody else didn’t, I have to watch it again—but those production numbers rocked my world. Go ahead, roll your eyes, but “Vogue” was the first EP I ever bought on CD (before that I used tapes—OK, tapes!). And I was 21 when Madonna’s tour movie Truth or Dare came out. Already self-aggrandizing, I thought of that movie more as a career blueprint than as entertainment. At that point, my entire adult life was ahead of me and that movie made me feel like there was a place big enough in the world to hold my ambitions—that no matter how narrow our culture seemed to be on subjects of race and gender, there would be room for me to shine.
Flash-forward 20 years and I feel like the world is small and tiring. I feel old, and not just because I don’t get Twitter, but because of the whole generational divide thing. Hipsters get on my nerves and there’s no way to explain why without sounding like something out of Grumpy Old Men. And don’t even get me started on our culture’s chronic misuse of the word ironic. I miss the days when I was young and callow—narcissism is so much more flattering on the young. Back then, I thought, I’m going to be fabulous and live forever, consequences be damned. So it’s hard to accept that what I believe now—every moment is precious, life is short, and there’s no time like the present—may be true but doesn’t exactly make me feel exuberant. Hearing all that Madonna brought my youth rushing back, not the bad choices and worse men, just the ambitious, hopeful part. Somehow the show made me realize that I probably need to stop whining, get off the couch, and just be fabulous. Madonna is once again my model for how to live life.
That’s not because she’s one of the most successful performing artists of all time or an amazing businesswoman, or even because she’s the master of reinvention. But because she’s still fearless. It’s been 26 years since she writhed on the floor at the first MTV Music Awards and she’s still pushing our cultural buttons on how girls are supposed to act. So many women seem vulnerable to the judgments of others, as if they’ll blow away if somebody deems them unworthy or fat. But Madge doesn’t she give a damn what anyone thinks. She started in Detroit and now lives in a English manor with the accent to match. That’s self-confidence. Watch the video for “Four Minutes” and wait for the line “But if I die tonight at least I can say I did what I wanted to do. Tell me how ’bout you?” before you disagree. The woman is snarkproof. Is there another 51-year-old out there who can get away with naming his or her tour “Sticky and Sweet”? At an age when most women are cutting their hair short, putting away the thongs, and preparing for hot flashes, Madonna remains as culturally relevant as she was when she sang “Like a Virgin” and looks just as good in a corset. Oh, sure, people say she isn’t what she was, but what’s the alternative? You grow and change, or you die.
While lots of women are still struggling with work-life balance and deciding which dreams to defer, Madonna is still calling her own shots and adopting children. As she said in a 2008 Nightline interview: “I may be dressing like the typical bimbo, whatever, but I’m in charge. You know. I’m in charge of my fantasies. I put myself in these situations with men, you know, and … people don’t think of me as a person who’s not in charge of my career or my life, OK. And isn’t that what feminism is all about, you know, equality for men and women? And aren’t I in charge of my life, doing the things I want to do? Making my own decisions?” So in honor of Madge, I’ve decided to throw off my mourning clothes, put on my thigh-high boots and take charge of my fantasies. I might even party like a rock star next week. Oh, and Twitter is stupid and hipsters are derivative lemmings.