Anyone who has seen Madonna perform knows that she is something of a superhuman: that stamina, that strength, those abs. Yet, the Material Girl still can't catch a break when it comes to Photoshopping rumors and body-shaming whenever she stars in a fashion campaign or editorial. Case in point: After Madge's super fierce ads for Versace hit earlier this month, Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera asked designer Donatella Versace if the images had been retouched — actually the reporter asked if they had been retouched "a lot."
Donatella shut the reporter down, saying Madonna's body was all real. "She did not have her abdomen or arms retouched," said Versace. Furthermore, "She didn't want any retouching — she didn't want to look like a 30-year-old."
Sure, the question could have been a harmless one, something rote that we assume of pretty much every fashion image we come across. The industry does have such a warped view of the idealized female body that even professionally gorgeous women are burnished, tweaked, and reshaped into almost oblivion. (See: here and here.) It's important to point out egregious Photoshopping horrors — such as the super-skinny Ralph Lauren model debacle or Julianne Moore's obliterated torso — but this feels more like the same old sexism and ageism that's frequently thrown Madonna's way.
From calling her out for wearing clothes that are "too young" to snarking on her wiry hands — and worse — the media constantly rags on the singer, as though she didn't have a right to such a hot bod or sizzling sexuality or long-lasting career. Pop culture teaches us that women are disposable, that they fade, and that their beauty and relevance can't last forever, and Madonna refutes that with every photograph, not to mention career move and album she makes. This power is what makes her so threatening, and what makes her such a perfect model for the Amazonian image of Versace.
We shouldn't be questioning Madonna's toned guns and fit physique in the ads, because whether they have been smoothed or altered a bit doesn't matter (and if they were, the changes wouldn't have made her body unrecognizable). What matters is that there's an experienced woman communicating power and strength in a fashion ad. As Donatella said in Corriere Della Sera, "I told her: You don't have to be only sexy. I want you like I know you: a vulnerable person who is afraid, who suffers from loneliness, and yet is strong, determined, and fearless. In these photos, she is." (The Cut)