Thursday, May 23, 2013

Can Madonna Make Flashy Safe for Women Over 50?

Madonna continues to push boundaries and buttons. And once again, people are asking if she’s gone too far.

This time, it’s the racy outfits she’s been wearing, not the costumes she sports during concerts, but the clothes she wears (or doesn’t wear) to public events like Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards. Accepting a Top Touring Artist award on stage, Madonna showed up in a provocative and skimpy ensemble that looked like it might have been borrowed from Lady Gaga (who herself has been known, figuratively, to borrow from Madonna). The outfit, custom made by Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, included a black shredded fishnet dress, which revealed a garter belt and black briefs.

Madonna’s outfit, as her outfits sometimes do, set off a round of tweets. “Madonna you are my mothers age. Needless to say i don’t want to see either of you in fishnet tights,” one viewer complained. “did mackelmore help madonna go thrift shopping when she bought that coat” asked another. Many tweeters expressed a blend of revulsion and envy. Madonna “is like 50 years old and has a better body than me oh” said one.
Madonna is 54 and has maintained an enviable shape. Those things command admiration from some, but scorn from others.

But Madonna’s age and insistence in putting sex in our faces makes some people uncomfortable–allowing her, in her fifties, to press a whole new set of buttons. Commentators are less offended by such outfits when they are worn by a younger star. Should a woman Madonna’s age being wearing something a little more covered up? some ask.Shouldn’t she dress her age? others question. To some it looks like she’s trying too hard to look young. To some, it comes off as desperate, embarrassing and a little sad.

My colleague, Journal reporter Christina Binkley, posed this question in an email: “When did we decide that women over 50 should be sexless? That certainly wasn’t the attitude in the glory days of Hollywood when stars continued seducing men well into their maturity. We’ve gotten so puritan!” She later added “I’m sorry, Madonna’s outfit just doesn’t look that outlandish to me. If Lady Gaga wore that, we’d yawn – she’s never that tame.”

So is Madonna trying to compete with Gaga, Beyonce, Britney and Rihanna, who are each indebted to her? Prove she’s still relevant? Or that she was the first to go there? And is she making herself look foolish in trying to still wear what they wear now and what she used to?

Madonna may be trying to make a new statement: Why should a woman over 50 start to dress matronly? Why, if she still has a toned body, can’t she wear risqué outfits?
Or she may be trapped. Her image is closely tied to how she looks and that look is closely tied to sex. Maybe she doesn’t know any other way to be or she thinks this is what her fans expect.

It does raise this question: how much longer will Madonna continue to wear get ups like this? What is her daughter Lourdes thinking? What example is she setting for her and for Beyonce and Rihanna once they turn 50? Can we expect to see Rihanna singing “S&M” in something skimpy in 30 years too?

Jennifer Lopez, in her early 40s, performed last night in an outfit that was similarly provocative. Who knows when or if, provided she maintains her famous shape, she’ll decide to retire such looks? What lessons can real women, and men, entering their 40s, 50s and beyond take from this when walking the fine line between dressing their age – whatever that might mean – and dressing like they’re denying their ages?

There are no easy answers. We may just have to wait to see what Madonna decides to wear when she turns 60.