Critiquing Madonna: Why Her Esthetic Choices Matter

Mark Olmsted
4 min readFeb 8, 2023

I dipped my toe in the water of Madonna last week, mostly not identifying with a) having a strong opinion about her either way; b) finding it silly to have a strong opinion about the strong opinion of others. [*spoiler alert* I changed my mind.] Mostly, I thought she was a perfect fit for a starring in a remake of Sunset Blvd; since then, I also thought of Colette’s Chéri.

Her appearance on the Grammy’s revived the love her/hate her kerfuffle, and I was still more likely to roll my eyes than wade in, although I was put off by her scolding tone at the awards, delivered without any trace of self-deprecating humor. (She’s never been good at that, despite thinking she is.)

When the defenders of Madonna post nonsense like this, however, I get pissed. Because by taking her self- “reinvention” to a Botched-level of facial distortion, she is embodying the following messages:

-“I know you say you love me, worshipful fans, but I don’t trust it. I don’t believe that you will still put me on the pedestal of diva-of-all-divas if I just do a little nip and tuck or none at all. I only see myself in your eyes, and what I see there is that you demand me to remain iconic and young at all costs.”
-“It is okay to be 64, but not to look it. I am so not okay with it that I am trying to look not 10 years younger, but at least twice that.”
-“I call myself a feminist, but I really just perform feminism, because I have totally bought into the idea that a woman’s value lies in maintaining her sexual attractiveness. I have this extraordinary status and power, and I’m using it to blare the message of non-self-acceptance, that you are not okay the way you are because I sure don’t feel I am okay the way I am.”
-“I have demanded your attention for 40 years, presenting over-the-top after over-the-top looks, but I only want to hear your compliments. If I show up at the Grammy’s in a hideous headmistress-dominatrix outfit to make no discernible point, and you lament that such a naturally beautiful woman is obviously suffering from visual dysmorphia when she looks in the mirror, you must be threatened by my power and stamina, by my strong-womanness, and my legions of admirers will diminish and attack you as misogynists.”

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Mark Olmsted

Author, "Ink from the Pen: A Prison Memoir" about my time behind bars. See GQ dot com “Curious Cons of the Man Who Wouldn’t Die” for story of how I got there.