Our culture is one that is obsessed with looks. There are a ton of so-called "models" on Instagram with overly edited pictures. Curves are added in places where none exist in real life. Pimples are removed from one's skin. A person's backside is enlarged in a way that seems almost impossible to obtain naturally.
This culture extends to the aging process. When it comes to aging, certain changes naturally take place that would cause these Instagram models to have a nervous breakdown. Wrinkles develop on your face, your hair begins to turn gray, and your skin starts to sag.
Therefore, if a person gets older, they're treated like a social pariah. This is nothing new. When someone reaches their 30th or 40th birthday, there's always been a certain amount of unease that person feels in letting go of the past decade. However, in this day and age of social media, it feels like the dial has been turned up several notches.
This also extends to celebrities, especially those within the music industry. When a popular singer gets older, they're expected to accept their fate and fade away quietly. They're not supposed to keep making records and if they do, attempting to compete with the youngsters is seen as laughable.
These are unwritten rules in the world of popular music.
Madonna is an artist who has always been known to break rules. From the start of her career, she has broken rules regarding female sexuality, speaking about LGBTQ+ rights, and openly criticizing religion. As she stands today, Madonna represents a figure who is fighting a new kind of battle. That being the one against ageism.
Her battle with ageism began in the early 90s. In 1993, Madonna was on her "Girlie Show World Tour" and facing backlash due to her coffee table book titled "Sex." In one review of her show , the headline called her a "grandma."
Ten years later, Madonna released her "American Life" album. She didn't attempt to make a record for pop radio like she had in the past. Instead, she made an experimental album that fused folk with electronic music. It wasn't considered a commercial success when compared to her previous releases.
Critics took notice and one writer penned an article for The New York Times about Madonna's latest move. The writer said that Madonna needed to connect with the younger audience. The article also claimed that Madonna was in the final stages of her career.
However, she could never win in the eyes of an ageist public. When Madonna began working with younger artists like Missy Elliot, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake, the ageism only grew stronger. This time, instead of calling her irrelevant, the public was calling her desperate.
Another area in which Madonna has broken rules in regard to aging celebrities is her choice of romantic partners. Since her divorce from Guy Ritchie in 2008, Madonna has been dating younger men, usually in their 20s. Regardless of the fact that this isn't anyone's business, it has caused a lot of discomfort among certain parts of the public.
And it's not just Madonna. In recent months, Leonardo DiCaprio has been in the headlines for his pattern of dating younger women. Many have been poking fun at him for seemingly refusing to date someone his own age. Others have even tried painting him as some kind of predator, even though everyone involved is a consenting adult.
This kind of ageism stems from narrow minded views in our society regarding older people and sexuality. It works in tandem with a culture that feels the need to invade a person's privacy for the mere fact that they're a celebrity.
Madonna has also remained provocative and overtly sexual with her artistic expression in recent years. From her videos to her live performances to her music, Madonna has continued to push the envelope. This is another area in which the public has voiced their opinion. Madonna has had to deal with a public uncomfortable with the idea of an older person still having a libido.
It was with this in mind that Madonna stepped onto the Grammy stage Sunday night. She was there to introduce Sam Smith and Kim Petras' performance of their hit "Unholy." In her speech, Madonna applauded the fearlessness of artists like Smith and Petras. She spoke from her own experience as an artist who always dared to push boundaries .
However, when the public began reacting to Madonna's appearance, her speech wasn't their focus. It was her face and the changes it appeared to have undergone that everyone was talking about. People claimed Madonna had undergone plastic surgery. Many on social media were downright mean. This kind of mockery was incredibly hateful and unnecessary.
It's quite hypocritical that a society which claims to endorse body positivity would find this kind of behavior acceptable. The same thing happened recently when Simon Cowell and Zac Efron received attention for looking quite different.
Instead of openly mocking people for allegedly having plastic surgery, we should be more sympathetic to what leads a person to make such a decision.
Madonna later blamed a "long lens camera" that she said distorted her face. She also said the public's reaction was the result of misogyny and ageism.
It certainly seemed that the level of hatred Madonna received was the result of her decades-long defiance of the rules that are put in place. This certainly includes rules that stem from misogyny and ageism. People react to Madonna with an extra layer of hate because they have been conditioned to feel that way.
However, Madonna isn't entirely innocent in this situation. Mockery and hatred aside, it does look like Madonna has undergone plastic surgery. When looking at her Instagram pictures, they appear to be photoshopped in ways that would put those so-called "models" to shame.
This wouldn't be an issue if Madonna hasn't claimed to be a crusader against ageism. When one goes to such extreme lengths to hide the signs of aging, they are saying that aging is a bad thing. They are saying that one shouldn't have wrinkles, gray hair, or sagging skin.
This is another form of ageism. You can't feed the very beast you're trying to fight against.
Still, it doesn't mean that the public was justified in their mocking of Madonna's appearance. It also doesn't mean that her dating younger men, working with younger artists, or simply enjoying life should be judged either.
Madonna is a human being who, at 64, still likes to have fun. At this point in her life, she could've easily resorted to making boring folk music about her kids. The fact that she still has the energy and hunger to push the envelope is something to be admired.
When accepting the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Petras thanked Madonna for all she's done for the LGBTQ+ community. It just goes to show that as pervasive as ageism is in our culture, there are still young people who don't look down on someone just because they're older.
It also shows that there are still artists who, like Madonna, think for themselves and refuse to play by the rules society lays out for them.