I recently spent time interviewing private medics who specialise in aesthetics for clients of high net worth. The first half of their mission is to get you almost obsessively thin; the second half is to offer you cosmetic treatments to replace the fat you have lost by getting too thin. Balance out the newly gaunt face with fillers, replace the lost boobs with implants, reshape the scrawny bum into a curve, as long as the waist stays tiny.
And so it goes on, like a Soviet worker being asked to dig holes for another worker to fill in, in the masquerade of full employment. Turning your physical form, if I may stretch my Russian metaphor to breaking point, into a Potemkin village of how an ideal body should be seen. It’s a lucrative game.
The more I heard about it, the more exhausted I felt. Which is also how I feel when I see Madonna. Oh I know it’s rude. I know we’re not meant to comment on other women’s faces. Believe me, I very rarely do. But there’s something that the little girl in me, the one who sat in her bedroom obsessively rewinding her beloved True Blue cassette, can’t get past.
And it’s that the woman whose face I could once fall into, mesmerised, whose sexual freedom I was pulled onwards by, motivated by, now seems stuck in a parody of it all. Of her old self. The one I liked more.
I realise I should hand in my feminist card at the door, because our movement currently leans towards “she’s doing it her way” and “personal choice” and “it’s not her fault, it’s the patriarchy.” I realise I might be less annoyed if her facial tweaks were more subtle. If I didn’t have to think about them. Maybe she already had work done back in the days when she represented freedom to me and I never knew. Maybe everyone’s at it now.
But I don’t really mean that – well, not just that. I mean that the current Madonna, who turned 60 a couple of years ago, was furious when a New York Times journalist interviewed her and seemed fixated on her age. She was well within her rights to be – but sometimes we project things onto situations we have created ourselves.
This is the same Madonna whose Instagram account is so shouty, so busy proving she can still get skanky, still spread her legs. Showing that she can do a provocative pose in a family snapshot with her kids. The Madonna who found a sexual preference for adoring men in their 20s and refuses to change.
It’s not that I think she shouldn’t do any of this at 60. I might go for a sexy 60 myself (I’m 47, a single mother, and feel like my own sexual liberation might truly only just be beginning. Who knows what the future holds?). It’s just that you can tell when someone is doing something more for the reaction than the process. It all seems like a repeat performance that gets fainter the louder it shouts.
When I was at sixth-form college in the 90s, a boy in my class managed to buy a copy of Madonna’s SEX book, hot off the press, and told us about it. He didn't bring it in – didn't dare. “What did the words say?” I asked him, beside myself to know what Madonna had written in it, what she thought about things. I knew from reading music magazines that the book was going to contain lots of text.
“Er, I only really looked at the pictures,” he said, which was fair enough and made me laugh at my own naivety. When I finally got to see the book, the pictures were sexy as hell – unexpected, interesting, new – and I loved the words just as much. It was a revelation, even though it had by this point taken me years to get a copy.
But nowadays it seems the pictures have won over the words, as she pushes her new face into the frame of yet another social media shot, like an attention-seeking teenager. I’d love to see how her sixties had turned out if she had felt secure. I imagine I’d have hung on every word. The person who seems the most bothered about Madonna’s age is her. The Queen of Change, intent on staying put.
Yet this is where my complaint gets lost in irony because, am I asking her to change or to stay the same? Are Madge and I are both stuck in the same dream, the one in which she wants time to alter nothing, and neither do I? Perhaps we’re both Stuckists. I want the Madonna I had in my childhood, but she’s gone.
And because of that, I’m not clamouring for her London concert tickets, even though I will pore over the Instagram stories of those who are about to see her live again, hearing bits of the choruses we love so hard. I just want to keep my precious memories in the shape they have always been in. Like a virgin, touched for the very first time.
Madonna plays the O2 on December 5 and 6; buy tickets here