Turning 40: Is Madonna The New Role Model?


Newsweek‘s Raina Kelley, who turns 40 next week, writes, “I don’t want to be 40, but, as my dad says, what’s the alternative?” In these uncertain times. Kelley is looking to a “model for how to live life”: Madonna.

Seeing and hearing Her Madgesty’s songs on the most recent episode of Glee made Kelley realize that Madonna is a role model “because she’s still fearless.”

At an age when most women are cutting their hair short, putting away the thongs, and preparing for hot flashes, Madonna remains as culturally relevant as she was when she sang “Like a Virgin” and looks just as good in a corset. Oh, sure, people say she isn’t what she was, but what’s the alternative? You grow and change, or you die.

But of course, this is not really about Ms. Kelley, or Madonna: This is about How We Age Now. Specifically How Women Age Now. As someone [gulp] closer to 40 than 30, I struggle with this question constantly. I love my mother, but in many ways, I can’t use her as a role model. She had an MBA and three kids by the time she was 27; I’m an unmarried, childless blogger — a job that until recently didn’t exist — who only just moved out of a studio apartment last year. How do I figure out where I’m supposed to be at 40, what I’m supposed to be doing at 40 and how to feel about it when the world treats women of that age so bizarrely? If you once had success, you’re considered past your prime. If you’re not married, you’re lonely. If you try to jump into the dating pool like men do — considering younger partners — you’re a predatory cougar. It seems like when you’re 40, you can’t win. Jennifer Aniston, 41, has tons of cash, lots of friends and a pretty active love life, yet she gets painted as sad and desperate. Jennifer Lopez is 40, but no one seem to think that what she has to say is as relevant or interesting as what Jay-Z has to offer, and he’s the same age. Forty-year-old Gwen Stefani seems like a “young,” cool mom, but she had her first kid at 37, way later than the medical community would recommend. Valerie Bertinelli (50), Jane Leeves (49), and Wendie Malick (59) are in that new Betty White sitcom, Hot In Cleveland, and according to this piece in Newsweek, “They are talented, elegant, and beautiful women, but the show treats them like horses with broken legs.”

I have a few friends who are over 40, and while they don’t have it all “figured out,” that to me is more calming than if they did. It means that I have time, that age is just a number, and that no one can really show you the path you’re supposed to be on.

But then there’s Madonna. According to Raina Kelley, Madge once said, in an interview: “People don’t think of me as a person who’s not in charge of my career or my life, OK. And isn’t that what feminism is all about, you know, equality for men and women? And aren’t I in charge of my life, doing the things I want to do? Making my own decisions?” Sounds like role-model material.

Lessons From Madonna [Newsweek]
Related: Golden Girl [Newsweek]

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