Take it from Madonna, she should know. Having just celebrated her 56th birthday a week ago with a 1920s themed soiree, Madonna is pop music’s original Boss Lady. Rarely has history provided us with an example of such unapologetic human determination.
Ferdinand Magellan may have been the first to circumnavigate the earth (kind of, his expedition succeeded but technically he was killed in battle while trying to subdue some island natives along the way), but he and all of his fellow explorers first had to accept the high probability of injury, illness, and even death in their exploration of the unknown. You could say that Madonna has embarked on a similar journey and died a thousand tiny deaths in pursuit of the unknown, for who else has so blatantly adventured into the vastness of human existence, challenged both their own boundaries as well as those of society, reinvented themselves over and over again and yet remained fundamentally recognizable and whole? With every pioneering step she takes outside of her currently imagined self, she becomes more and more that which she is meant to be and yet has always been. It’s puzzling but it also makes perfect sense, because this is what happens to us when we explore beyond our assigned comfort zones.
She grew up in a small town outside of Detroit, Michigan, born to Italian-American parents and the third of six children. Sadly her mother passed away from breast cancer when she was just five years old. Madonna was not particularly popular with her classmates, but she was a good student and even joined the cheerleading squad. After convincing her father to allow her to take ballet lessons she received a dance scholarship to attend the University of Michigan, although she later dropped out at age 19 and moved to New York City with just $35 in her pocket.
The city was an unwelcoming host, where she lived in a typically depressing apartment that was burglarized three times, and where she worked minimum wage jobs while she pursued her passion for dance and music. In her first year the worst of it culminated in being mugged at gunpoint and then sexually assaulted, a story she shared in a personal essay that she penned for Harper’s Bazaar in 2013.
Sometimes I would play the victim and cry in my shoe box of a bedroom with a window that faced a wall… And I wondered if it was all worth it, but then I would pull myself together and look at a postcard of Frida Kahlo taped to my wall, and the sight of her mustache consoled me. Because she was an artist who didn’t care what people thought. I admired her. She was daring. People gave her a hard time. Life gave her a hard time. If she could do it, then so could I.
(excerpt from her essay)
Madonna has been an icon for self-discovery and self-expression for decades. She chose to defy convention and fashioned herself into a modern pioneer for both men and women by openly exploring the topics of human sexuality, spirituality, and individuality through her music, fashion, film roles, and a deliberate manipulation of the media. She brazenly shined the spotlight on the LGBT community, interracial relationships, and on the meaning of religion.
Of course we can’t forget her contributions to the feminist movement either. In the 1960s we burned our bras, in the 1970s the feminist agenda made its way into poetry, art, the literary world and education like never before, and in the 1980s we had Madonna. She famously put the bra back on, but with the help of Jean Paul Gaultier she reinvented it and converted it into a power symbol, showing us that we didn’t need to burn our bras but rather own our bodies in them. Now that is how you think like a boss lady!
Both widely criticized and celebrated simultaneously, her successes and her failures have empowered the female gender and paved the way for other powerful women both in music and beyond. All great men and women meet with resistance along the way, and her story is no different. As a true ambassador for innovation and belief in oneself, she has consistently demonstrated that ambition is nothing to be ashamed of, and neither should you wallow in your mistakes nor let a bad review topple your confidence. The colorful and often controversial life of Madonna Louise Ciccone continues to influence us and push us to look outside of our chosen comfort zone. When in doubt, remember that her voice has empowered you to have a voice of your own. So go ahead and say what you want, or better yet sing it proudly, even if you can’t carry a tune.
Boss Lady Breakdown: Madonna
♕ Her net worth is something in the realm of $700 million (making her one of the wealthiest women in entertainment today), but one of her first jobs was at Dunkin’ Donuts.
♕ She is the mother of 4 children, 2 of them adopted.
♕ She is a singer, song writer, dancer, actress, author, director, record producer, clothing designer, philanthropist, advocate and businesswoman.
♕ Her personal empire spans over 30 years.
♕ She is the best-selling female recording artist of all time, and Billboard has recognized her as the number two artist, behind only The Beatles, on their list of 100 All-Time Top Artists.
♕ The Pope and the Vatican have publicly condemned Madonna on more than one occasion for her racy and controversial portrayal of Catholicism in her work.
♕ Long before Miley Cyrus twerked into the spotlight and Britney lip-synched self-consciously across many a stage, Madonna’s groundbreaking music videos were deemed too racy even to be aired on MTV. And yet despite her naughtiness, even more recently she has shown the world a more wholesome side by publishing at least 10 children’s books.
♕ Despite being one of the world’s most successful women in existence, people love to hate on Madonna and relentlessly mock her appearance and her work while they themselves haven’t a tenth of her bravery or stamina. But the criticism never manages to slow her down or dampen her spirit. Instead it serves to sustain the momentum of her journey.