SARAH VINE: Why can't Madonna wear her age and experience with pride?

SARAH VINE: She is an icon of freedom… so why can’t Madonna wear her age and experience with pride?

At 64, Madonna’s impact on popular culture is undeniable. Lady Gaga, Beyoncé: they all owe something to Madonna.

Whether bopping around in a wedding dress for Like A Virgin or snogging Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera live on stage, she has never just pushed boundaries, she has smashed them to smithereens, much to the delight of her legions of fans.

She is Queen of non-conformism, an icon of female self-determination – and for that many other women, including myself, have huge respect for her.

Which is why her appearance at Sunday night’s Grammys was so unbelievably sad.

For a woman who has always been so proudly and defiantly herself – who has always sung what she wanted, worn what she wanted, danced how she wanted, stuck two fingers up to authority and run rings around the patriarchy – to have succumbed so completely and with such painfully obvious results to the soul-crushing cult of eternal youth is just heartbreaking.

To see her re-defining herself along such limited and limiting lines, succumbing to the pressure to deny the passage of time and adhering to unrealistic beauty standards goes against everything this icon has ever stood for: freedom, defiance, individuality.

Madonna’s appearance at Sunday night’s Grammys was so unbelievably sad

She is wearing a mask made of society’s expectations – and it really doesn’t suit her.

There’s no point in being cruel, as many have. But there’s also no denying that she’s gone too far. Her face is puffy with what many assume is anti-ageing fillers, her skin taut to the point where it almost looks painful.

The map of her features has changed completely: if you didn’t know it was her she would be almost unrecognisable.

Her lips – always one of her best features – are swollen, almost grotesquely so. The only wrinkles on her face are the ones around her eyes, perhaps where the needle can’t quite reach.

They only emphasise the unnatural smoothness of the rest. She’s like a living, breathing Instagram filter, a cartoon version of her former self.

I’m sure she would argue that it’s none of anyone’s business what she does to her own face. And that is of course true.

She once said: ‘I am certainly not against plastic surgery. However, I am absolutely against having to discuss it.’

She might even argue that it’s a form of self-expression. People do that a lot these days.

She is wearing a mask made of society’s expectations – and it really doesn’t suit her

But I really don’t think that’s what this is. This is not a act of defiance, it’s just a 64-year-old in denial.

An ageing pop star who surrounds herself with people half her age, who is so rich and so powerful no one dares contradict her. Looking at that face, all I can think is where are her real friends?

Why has no one had the courage to sit her down and tell her she looks absurd?

Madonna has nothing to prove. Her career speaks for itself, and the fact that she has survived four decades at the top of a ruthless industry is a remarkable achievement.

She should be able to wear her age and experience with pride, not feel compelled to hide behind this crude mask of youth.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with plastic surgery, looking after yourself, having the odd rejuvenating treatment here and there, just to take the edge off.

I am certainly the last person to judge any woman who does. The results can be fantastic, and very life-affirming.

But you have to be realistic. A 64-year-old can look 50 and that’s fabulous.

But she can’t wear the skin of a 20-year-old without looking, quite frankly, downright odd.

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