Before I say this, I know many of the commenters -- especially those who are fans of Madonna -- will immediately accuse me of jealousy. Fine. It's an easy way out of facing the truth I am about to impart. (And for the record, I am not jealous of Madonna. Middle-aged women -- like myself -- whom I am jealous of? Easy: Julianne Moore (effortlessly and enduringly sultry); Meryl Streep and (going slightly older here) Helen Mirren -- both who radiate the kind of beauty, depth, intelligence and sex-appeal that transcends age, not to mention the surgeon's scalpel. (Have I established my creds?)
So let me say outright that I found Madonna's performance at the Super Bowl utterly and face-grabbingly embarrassing -- a "shonda," as the Yiddish expression goes, upon all sexy middle-aged women. I know many women, including fellow contributor Erica Diamond found the singer's performance "empowering"-- but I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. It's empowering that a 53-year-old woman can stay fit, pull on thigh-high boots, and prance around a stage dry humping gay dancers? Empowering in what way exactly?
Just because a woman of a certain age can do all that doesn't mean she should do all that -- even if she is all that, if you follow me. And here's why:
With age comes many benefits and virtues, as those of us on either side of 50 know. If we are lucky we are wiser, calmer, more fatalistic, less dogmatic, and appreciate more what life has given us than what it has taken away. Yes, some of what it physically takes away from us is truly disheartening. Gravity: Flesh falls. Ditto youthful complexion: Wrinkles happen. Face creams, poison injections, and surgery may stave off, for a short time, the inevitable. But I believe a continuing rule of nature is that for a woman to remain attractive -- for her to continue to exude sex appeal, even well into her 60s or 70s (and I've met such women) -- is that she must also embrace her age. In short, there are few women less sexy than those who behave as if they are 10 and 20 years younger than they are.
And here I don't mean we shouldn't go out dancing or dress fashionably -- even youthfully. I was there at Tina Turner's rebirth as a pop sensation in her 50s: She came close to the line Madonna crossed, but somehow didn't step over. The woman packed heat. You didn't watch her and think to yourself, "Oh God. Why are you doing this?"
The line crossing happens, I think, when a woman forgets where she is in life, or maybe who she is. Is there anything more skin crawling than watching a 50-something woman flirt lasciviously with a 20-something man? (Oh please don't bore me with your double standards talk -- you know it's true.) Think Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liasons."
Perhaps there is no unkinder judge of an older woman than a younger woman. I remember in my own twenties, the contempt my contemporaries and I reserved for the older, predatory woman. Good luck with that, honey. As if. (Of course we never realized or appreciated our sexual power then, and simply squandered it away.) The old cliché, "mutton dressed like lamb," resonates still.
Why? For all the strides women have made, yadda yadda?
Because as with all things that ultimately ring hollow, the mutton who dresses like lamb is asserting a false identity, an untrue identity. "I want you to see me this way when it is obvious I am not like that." An Emperor-with-No-Clothes problem. Human sensibility naturally bridles at any suggestion of trickery. You are being asked to believe what is obviously not true. Not only that, but you are being asked to collude in the lie. "You look wonderful," you say to the 70-year-old woman whose face is pulled tight as an army sheet, and a little part of you rebels. You might feel disgust, or contempt, or pity. And you might even wonder, sympathetically, "Maybe when I am 70 I will feel the need to do that." And yet still it is a false face, borne of vanity, and in some extreme cases, a type of narcissism, one that you are are being drawn in to condone.
Which circles me back to Madonna and her performance at the Super Bowl. I watched it with two impartial judges -- my son, 18, and my younger daughter, 10. Both immediately exhibited discomfort -- as if I had suddenly stood up in the room, ripped off my shirt, and began jumping around. They did not find it empowering. They found it: Ew.
Which circles me back again to the truly sexy, older woman. Men, I think you'll stand by me here.
My mother -- and full disclosure, this is the older woman I most envy on all levels -- once told me, when I asked her, "Honestly, my favorite age has been every one I've been."
Meaning: When she was 50, she embraced 50. When she was 60, she embraced 60. And so on. Now she is in her 70s. She has an unreconstructed face. When pressed, she might express anxieties about her neck or jawline. But I know when I look at her -- along with the rest of the world -- I don't see the wrinkles or the imperfectly loose flesh. I see the whole package. I see a confident, beautiful woman who radiates her own Tina Turner heat -- who still snaps heads, who still draws attention in a crowded room, who can keep an entire table mesmerized with her intelligence and vivacity. She knows who she is and embraces it.
Isn't that the sexiest woman of all?