by Kara-Leah Grant
I watched Madonna on the Grammy’s a few years ago and I almost wept.
Who was this shell of a woman, her papery-thin and paper-coloured skin stretched tight across her face? We all know she’s nearly 60, where’s the deviant wrinkles, the glorious salt & pepper hair, the relaxed winks as she settles into enjoying her undisputed reign as Queen of Pop?
Instead, she’s morphed into a caricature of her once saucy and irreverent self. I yearn for the Maddy of old, who was assured and suffered not a jot of self-consciousness when MTV first interviewed her in a diner. She was relaxed and charming and delightful and funny. (See below for fun.)
I’m sure she retains many of those traits, and the Madonna I see in videos and magazines is only one small part of her image. I get that.
But oh… she was such a revolutionary in the ’80s, stomping out new ground for women and claiming the right to be sexual on her own terms – not because she was trying to be seductive and charming but because it made her feel powerful and strong.
Yes, I grew up in the ’80s and came of age in the ’90s – Madonna was my idol, my hero, my go-to-gal for dancing and up-lifting pop music. I adored her, and her antics. I was proud of her intensity and how hard she worked and the way she trained her body. I was proud of her dedication to yoga.
In hindsight, all that intensity and dedication to the body reveals strong attachment and desire to present oneself a certain way.
Yoga or no yoga, Madonna likes being in charge, of herself and her world, and I’m sure she’s already decided she’s going to give ageing a good run for it’s money.
But ageing isn’t something that any of us can beat into submission. It’s not something we can outrun, or escape, or hold back. We all get old. Our bodies give out. We get wrinkles. The way we look changes. Our hair goes grey. We become less supple – even with regular yoga.
Hell, I’m only 41 and already I’m noticing the way my body is ageing – how it softens and wrinkles if I don’t maintain a strong asana practice, how my skin dries and wrinkles if I don’t oil it up regularly, how the wrinkles are becoming a more and more permanent feature of my face. And look – is that a grey hair! My god it is… it’s official, my days of youth are over and I’m slipping into middle-age…
Now, who can I look to for a model of ageing gracefully? What’s my old idol, Madonna up to, that champion of women’s rights? Surely she be ageing with gusto, making every wrinkles and grey hair something to celebrate?
I mean, love her or hate, disparage her singing ability or revel in her stage presence, Madonna is an extraordinary artist and woman.
Over the years she’s bought us quotes like this:
“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.”
“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.”
“To be brave is to love someone unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. To just give. That takes courage, because we don’t want to fall on our faces or leave ourselves open to hurt.”
“There’s no such thing as the perfect soulmate. If you meet someone and you think they’re perfect, you better run as fast as you can in the other direction. ‘Cos your soulmate is the person that pushes all your buttons, pisses you off on a regular basis, and makes you face your shit.”
“If your joy is derived from what society thinks of you, you’re always going to be disappointed.”
She’s obviously got a few clues about life and how to live. Yet despite all her toughness and astuteness and ambition and risk taking, she’s failed to take the biggest risk a woman celebrity can make. To age naturally and with grace.
She’s missed the biggest opportunity to be a role model for ageing rock stars. Of course, Madonna has never given a hoot for being a rock star, it’s always her way or the highway. Unfortunately, when it’s come to ageing, her way is becoming increasingly grotesque and I find it difficult to watch her anymore. It’s like she’s encased in this decrepit mask that’s slowly eating away at the woman she once was.
That mask is her public identity, forged from thousands upon thousands of images created over the years.
How difficult must it be to age in the public eye when the image the public has of you is never going to match up with reality? How great must the pressure be to do everything you can to meet those expectations and hold on to that beauty you once had?
But whenever we hold on to something and attempt to keep things the way they were, we don’t allow life to naturally change and grow and shift into something new.
An older Madonna could have been a stunning woman, like an older Helen Mirren or an older Sharon Stone is. Sure, they don’t look like they did when they were 20, or 30, or even 40. But that’s because they’re not who they were at 20, 30 and 40.
As we age, it’s not just our bodies that change, but we do too. And those changes on the inside are the ones that are illuminated on the outside. Madonna looks like a woman afraid to face reality, a woman afraid to face the incoming tide of her eventual death, a woman afraid.
So just as she inspired me in the ’80s and ’90s, Madonna is inspiring me now. Now, I’m inspired to be different from her. To embrace my ageing self with love. To see the beauty in my wrinkles, my sagging skin and my going-grey hair.
It’s become another aspect of my yoga practice – to notice the internal dialogue when I look in the mirror and when I see my ageing self.
Can I see myself through eyes of love? Rather than eyes of regret, or eyes of longing for what once-was? Can I treat myself and my body with love even while accepting the constant change of the form? Can I unhook from the intense social conditioning which wants me to pursue youth at all cost?
This is the key to ageing gracefully – noticing the external pressures. Noticing the internal dialogues and beliefs. And then choosing love, above all else.
Loving my body by eating nourishing food – not to stay thin, but because it’s nurturing.
Loving my body by massaging oil into it every night, and doing it with a feeling of love.
Loving my face by smiling at myself in the mirror, wrinkles at all, rather than grimacing and regretting every time.
And finally, loving myself by accepting and knowing that I am not this body. It is not who I am. It came, it will go, and I will remain. Along the way, it’s always changing, yet that which I am is infinite and eternal.