Madonna at 60

I’m pausing my very serious book posts to reveal an amazing fact about myself: I am Madonna.

Many of you who know me through my day job or through writing will probably think that I am the furthest from Madonna that you could imagine – serious, studious and sober. But ask the people who have known me longest and they will tell you that, like Madonna, I have reinvented myself many, many times.

My earliest version of ‘me as Madonna’ was standing at the school gates to collect my daughter dressed in a leather skirt, low slung belt, stringy vest top, black bra and, yes, finger-less lace gloves. I would squeeze lemon onto my ginger locks on order to encourage blonde as I couldn’t really afford the hairdresser on my single-parent two job wage. ‘Like a Virgin’ spoke to me and I understood where Madonna was coming from, oh yes I did! I would stand chewing gum at the nightclub bar where I worked to save up for a mortgage deposit and dance to Holiday.

Crazy For You and Desperately seeking Susan saw me drying my armpits in a pub toilets and crying over lost love. Onward to Like a Prayer, where legend tells that I appeared in the living room in my nightie and we all laughed ourselves silly at me dancing round being Madonna as a bus full of people on the main road outside my house watched, open-mouthed. Later people would laugh for a different reason as I dressed up in a pointy bra and went to someone’s birthday 40th party fancy dress – apparently it ‘wasn’t the done thing’ and I was ‘asking for it’ – but luckily my children remember only the fun and laughter Madonna.

The laughter didn’t last and my life became difficult. Music wasn’t my saviour anymore. No one was. I struggled through the next ten years, not really know who I was and losing my ‘Madonna’ – not by choice but by a myriad of ‘shoulds’ and control. But I knew, deep down, that something would give. I was still strong, somewhere inside.

It wasn’t until 1998, when, single again, I started to re-engage with life and turned on my radio and heard Ray of Light that I felt a glimmer of hope. I had been totally lost with no baseline for my own identity. No longer in touch with a social life, I’d thrown myself into study and work. I still loved music, but me and music no longer matched. I was sad and dowdy and afraid. Under-confident. But when I watched Madonna in the Ray of Light video I recognised myself somewhere in there. There was a glimpse of grown-up me who could still have fun, and I felt it. I felt a spark.

I watched her, older now, but still creative and beautiful, spinning and singing and it meaning something. She’d morphed into someone approaching 40 but still clubbing and still dancing and she did not give a shit about what anyone else said about her. I didn’t always agree with her brand of feminism, but I did understand it now. That too taught me that we are all on a journey, and success as a woman often means you have to be ‘feminist as far as possible’ as you grow and change the world – I even titled a chapter of my subsequent PhD thesis and book this.

I’m only a little bit younger than Madonna, I’m 57 this year, but I’m old enough that people are surprised when I tell them that I’m starting a new career as well as my current one and often get told that ‘women over 50 should have short hair’. About five years ago someone I care about heavily criticised me for the choices I made early on in my life and for things that happened to me that were out of my control. I didn’t say anything to them, but inside, for the first time, my inner voice said ‘I don’t care what you think. I did what I thought was best at the time.’ I was so surprised that I started laughing, because previously I would have worried and invested in what they said, examining it every which way to see if they were right and I was, in fact, rubbish.

But I’m not. I know I’m not. I’m just that little bit more Madonna! Long live dressing up and dying your LONG hair and being creative and posting on social networking and not giving a fuck. Happy birthday, Madonna, long may you appear on my Facebook feed reminding me that age is just a number.