Who doesn’t love Madonna? After bursting onto our screens in 1983 with a blistering Top of the Pops performance of Holiday, she was pop royalty for so many of us, for so long. So it made me doubly sad when I checked out the Instagram footage of her Madame X gig in Harlem last month and saw her looking like an over-filtered shadow of her gorgeous self.
Unretouched pics taken at the gig by fans showed the reality: a 63-year-old icon still looking frankly fabulous. The heavily filtered shots on her social-media feed, however, demonstrated something else: a host of images mangled to conform to some skewed ideal of what society thinks “beauty” should be.
I’ve talked about filters before, and here they were again, changing the shape of her face, whitening her eyes and teeth and obliterating her pores, until she looked, frankly, like an exotic alien. And if Madonna, one of the most talented female artists in existence, isn’t comfortable enough in her own skin to bare an authentic version of it to the world, what hope is there for the rest of us?
I’m betting that most of us have used a filter or two on social media –I mean, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like the smoothed-out, tightened-up version of themselves they allow us to present? But looking that “good” becomes addictive. And what message is it sending to society at large when we keep on messing with the way we look? That we’re just not good enough as we are.
It’s a vicious circle for many women, particularly those of us in midlife and beyond: we’re bombarded with fake versions of so-called perfection that make us feel bad about ourselves, and so we reach for the filters over and over again. And it doesn’t stop there.
In September, the former supermodel Linda Evangelista took to Instagram to announce that she was suing the company behind a fat-freezing procedure known as CoolSculpting because she had been “brutally disfigured”.
“[It] did the opposite of what it promised,” she said.
Following the treatment, she was left with paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH), a condition in which, instead of shrinking away, the fat cells rebound and accumulate, causing fatty deposits to multiply and swell. According to Evangelista, the areas she had had treated – chin, thighs, abdomen, flanks – now appeared heavier than before.
“PAH has not only destroyed my livelihood, it has sent me into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness and the lowest depths of self-loathing,” she wrote. “In the process, I have become a recluse.”
In attempting to respond to pressure from society to look a certain way, Linda Evangelista has had a terrible time. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for her – after all, she was engaged in that same battle we all are to a greater or lesser degree: waging war against age, flesh and perceived “imperfections”.
I applaud her decision to speak out about this, because she’s acknowledging what we’re always talking about here at Studio10. And it’s precisely what the team who put filters on those images of Madonna were refusing to admit: no woman in her sixties can look like a 25-year-old model without help.
You only have to walk into your nearest high-street chemist to be made aware of the ever-expanding range of products and treatments on offer to “improve” our bodies: to make us look younger, thinner, smoother, slicker. There’s no part of us too small to be controlled, improved, augmented or removed: eyelashes, lips, body hair, pores, eyebrows, nails, hair, teeth, fat – I could go on, but you get the picture.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying these practices are wrong. But the way we talk about them often is – society’s use of the term “anti-ageing”, for instance, which we certainly don’t employ here at Studio10. And we love a beauty ritual. We embrace their power. We just need to be honest about what we’re doing.
Let’s start a conversation about the fact that midlife women are expected to look 30 years younger than they really are. And let’s call out the idea that, in a world obsessed with women’s hyper-visibility, we can become invisible in a heartbeat if we fail to conform.
Because if even Madonna doesn’t believe that her real face is good enough, there’s no hope for any of us.