Madonna has nothing left to prove – yet she’s destroying her own face

Madonna at the Grammys - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Madonna at the Grammys - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

“I wish I had a twin, so I could know what I’d look like without plastic surgery,” sighed the late Joan Rivers. The great comedienne had a staggering 348 cosmetic operations over the course of her life and she ended up looking like a tasered Siamese cat. Not unpretty, but definitely stunned and weird.

I always felt a bit sad that a woman as uproariously funny as Rivers had so much work done that she lost the ability to laugh or to move much of her face at all.  Her daughter, Melissa, said her mother was never happy with the way she looked which “fed into her sense of being less than”.

If any female on the planet has a right to feel “more than” it’s Madonna. During an extraordinary 40-year showbiz career, the Material Girl has truly earned the title “legend”. Madonna was her usual iconoclastic self at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, saluting all the “rebels” and “troublemakers”, but it was her own rebellion against the ageing process that drew all the attention.


Her face looked so different that fans went on social media to complain she was barely recognisable. Forget subtle tweaks. At 64, Madonna’s visage is a triumph of the embalmer’s art. It is so eerily smooth, so overfilled, that the chin is too pointy and the cheeks too puffy. The upside-down triangle shape is supposed to look youthful, but the dermatologist wielding the syringe forgot to say, When! The star looked like a monstrous baby crossed with a koi carp.

“She wants to look like the 2000s Madonna and refers to herself in the third person,” says a source close to the singer. Uh-oh. Referring to yourself in the third person is always a symptom of grandiose delusions (the great American writer Norman Mailer called himself “Mailer” and he was as mad as a box of snakes). Madonna has clearly passed the point where a friend can take her aside and say, “Honey, you always look incredible, but this is too much.”

“Madonna heard that puffy cheeks hide the ageing lines, and she’s become obsessed with the notion,” the source adds. “So the cheeks will be puffy even if people think they make her look either odd or chubby. She’s very aware that her face is one of the most recognisable on the planet so … she doesn’t want to be a cartoon version of herself.”

Who’s That Girl: Madonna in 1985, 2008 and 2023 - Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images | Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty Images
Who’s That Girl: Madonna in 1985, 2008 and 2023 - Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images | Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty Images

Sadly, a caricature of Madonna is now exactly what she looks like. So much so that the head appears to have been frozen and plonked on a random body.

I’m sure the singer would say it’s none of our goddamn business. In 2018, Madonna observed, “What I am going through now is ageism, with people putting me down or giving me a hard time because I date younger men or do things that are considered to be only the domain of younger women.”

It’s true that old rockers like Mick Jagger don’t attract the same criticism. As they enter their eighties, the Rolling Stones may resemble the residents of the Galapagos Islands, but no one reels back in horror. Quite the opposite.

I’m not opposed to cosmetic treatments, not at all. It’s purely a personal choice. Some of my friends have regular Botox and fillers while others learn to live with wrinkles, wearing more roll-necks and artfully arranged scarves. Trying to look good for your age is fine. Trying to look like you did a quarter of a century ago is plain freakish.

Maybe that’s why Madonna’s appearance at the Grammys was so shocking. She has nothing left to prove, but she still can’t relax and accept herself. It’s precisely because women are judged more harshly that Madonna feels the need to keep having the procedures that are destroying her own face. And that really is sad.