Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A is for Age

I haven't really felt my age since I was about 18. I feel like very little has changed for me since then, although I know I must be a little wiser and perhaps calmer than I was.

These unretouched pictures of Madonna's latest campaign for Louis Vuitton are circulating online, and they made me think about how skewed our visual perception of age has become. My sophisticated first reaction of OH MY GOD, WHAT'S HAPPENED TO MADONNA'S FACE?? surely can't be right, when after a moment of consideration the answer is clear - time.

On third glance, she actually looks fabulous for a 51 year old woman (with some hefty cosmetic procedures on her side) minus the airbrushing - why does LV need to go one extra step to de-age her by a quarter of a century? Of course this is the way we've been trained to receive and appreciate advertising, but we all know how old Madonna is - especially those who danced to her 80s tracks as clubbers in their twenties, but have mysteriously zoomed past her in terms of their physical ageing. It's no secret, but she and we are happy to collude in the 'Madonna looks so great' myth. The overwhelming feeling I get from the raw pictures is tiredness, sheer exhaustion. Not due to age perhaps, but to the titanic effort of maintaining her everlasting youth. The teenage boho hair, the leotards, the dewy make-up, the playful bunny ears are all part of the theatrics.

The interesting thing about the brand she represents is that Louis Vuitton is a classic label. It represents wealth, maturity, the security of being able to buy their luxe leather goods to travel with. Couldn't they have unveiled a new Madonna with a more fifty-plus look tailored to her own style and image? She is, after all, the queen of reinvention. In the re-touch Vuitton have not only de-aged her, but feminised her - note the sculpting away of arm muscle and softening of expression. They aren't fully celebrating the defiant, bordering-on-bionic Madonna, but giving us a completely different person than the icon photographed.

I do agree that you're only as young as you feel, and I admire Madge's energy and determination that her life and career shouldn't need to slow down after fifty. But I do think other celebs manage to stay in the limelight while still looking fabulously middle-aged in it - it's a hard time for those who have built their career around their body or face. Age can be a beautiful thing, if you're at one with the self that remains: in your mind, your conversation, your laugh. I can't see myself filling my cheeks and forehead with every type of silicone and poison available to me post-fifty, but who knows - I'll get back to you when my face starts to collapse.

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