Madonna's naked flesh has taught me a lesson I'll never forget
Bare bum cheeks, taped-up nipples, leather... when it comes to Madonna, we’ve seen it all before. So when the singer arrived at the Met Gala, this week, wearing scraps of lace and PVC patched together to make a gown - one with her bum and boobs on show - I barely batted an eyelid.
Her outfit looked like it was designed to shock and be as revolutionary as her conical bra in the 80s. But to my Millennial eyes, it all just looked tired and, dare I say it, unfashionable. Compared to red carpet pros Alexa Chung and Lea Seydoux, Madonna looked like a hippie mum gone mad .
The critics agreed. Headlines called it a “fashion fail,” while commentators said she was “truly undignified”, “utterly classless” and plain “desperate.”
But Madonna has had the last word. In an Instagram post that can only be described as a massive ‘f*** you’, she explained that her dress was “a political statement as well as a fashion statement.”
“When it comes to women’s rights, we are still in the dark ages,” she wrote. “The fact that people actually believe a woman is not allowed to express her sexuality and be adventurous past a certain age is proof that we still live in an age-ist and sexist society.
“I have never thought in a limited way and I’m not going to start.”
In other words – all the haters sitting at home and wondering why she couldn’t just put on a structured Balmain gown and look chic - are ‘limited’. While Madonna most certainly is not.
If that wasn’t painful enough to hear from the original Queen of Pop, she continued to spell it out: “If you have a problem with the way I dress, it is simply a reflection of your prejudice.”
I’ve officially been schooled by Madonna.
Because she’s right. As much as we critics pretended we were against her outfit - rather than the woman inside it - it’s not the truth. If Madonna had worn the exact same garb in the 80s, when she was in her early 20s, would we have been so judgmental?
It hurts to admit it, but if Madonna had worn her lace get-up in a scene from Desperately Seeking Susan, I'd probably have thought it was an admirable statement, and wished I were her (as much I do during every other scene in that film).
But because she was wearing it a few decades on, I found it embarrassing. I'm guilty of the very ageism and sexism that Madonna describes.
Of course, I am not the only one. As a society we’ve created a world where people over the age of 40 are only ‘cool’ if they fit certain models. Nonagenarian Iris Apfel rocks because she has amazing fashion sense and statement glasses; Mary Beard has her #greyhairdontcare; Mary Berry wears bomber jackets.
Yet when an older woman makes a choice we don’t understand, like Madonna’s matador outfit and this recent bum-flashing number, we react with disgust so strong that they feel the need to call us out.
Sarah Jessica Parker did the same thing. After her Met ball outfit was slammed this week, she replied to a critic on Instagram: “Perhaps you didn’t like what I wore which is completely fine but you can’t accuse me not paying close attention and adhering to the theme [Manus x Machina].”
Both SJP and Madge have responded in the best way possible. They’ve used social media to get their voices heard and provide context for their outfits, in a thought-provoking way. They’ve changed people’s minds - including my own.
But they shouldn’t have had to.
We, the public, shouldn't have judged them so harshly based on their appearances alone. We’ve started to recognise that when an actress is on the red carpet we should #AskHerMore than which designer her dress is by. So why do we keep shoving women into ‘best dressed’ and ‘worst dressed’ galleries every time they walk out of the house?
As Madonna said in her post: “We cannot effect change unless we are willing to take risks, by being fearless and by taking the road less travelled by. That’s how we change history.”