It happens to us all

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to this picture of Madonna:


When I considered putting it in this blog, I realized that while I would be doing so for entertainment value, it's also crass and exploitative, because if we live long enough, we will all have sagging flesh. Despite my daily physical exercise routine, my flesh sags more than it used to. There is a process called gravity which Newton explored centuries ago, and against which we all must fight until we die and the process of decomposition takes over. (While it's nice to think that no one would be interested in the latter, I think that if someone had managed to sneak a web cam with a long-lasting battery inside of Michael Jackson's coffin, the public interest -- and possible revenue -- would be considerable.)

However, there is the additional issue of Madonna being a woman, as well as a shrilly left-wing woman, which leaves me open to a charge of sexism for displaying that picture. I don't know which I hate more: sexism or being accused of sexism. In that respect, I guess sexism is a bit like racism.

Double standards abound. Were I to put up a picture of an aging male actor showing his sagging flesh, no one would call that sexist, simply because I too am of the male sex. (And I can't be sexist against my own kind, can I?)

I suspect that not too many conservatives would bother accusing me of sexism, because Madonna is a flaming leftie. But suppose a liberal blogger featured the sagging skin of a conservative woman; would that be sexist? Only to conservatives? And would it matter how attractive the woman happens to be? I mean, if I uploaded an unflattering image showing Justice Sotomayor's flabby or sagging flesh, would that be more sexist than showing the sagging flesh of a sex symbol? Why? Can someone explain these rules?

I am genuinely baffled.

And I really don't care about Madonna's sagging flesh. Honest.

(Sometimes I worry that bias is like gravity.)

posted by Eric on 07.16.09 at 11:03 AM


There are biological differences that no fashionable philosophy can change.

An older male, especially an alpha, is perceived differently, and more favorably, because of hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection.

Claim it is unfair or wrong, if intellectual fashion dictates, but it is still true.

There is a price for this, based on proper evolutionary game theory.

A male, female and small child are at the edge of the forest. A predator appears on the savannah. The female instinctively grabs the child and runs. The male turns to face the predator.

If he instead runs, the female and child are soon caught. If she does *not* run, the male's stand is in vain.

Hard on her "pride?" Not as hard as it is on his skin.

Not relevant today? Nonsense. The comparative advantages still prevail, even for knowledge workers. At some point we must act in the real world, and it is indispensable to have powerful but shorter-lived and expendable men.

Robert Arvanitis   ·  July 16, 2009 11:21 AM

This might be my favorite post of yours.

You spend what, a few thousand words? telling us why putting up the picture is something just isn't you, after you already put the picture up!

Of course, the reason I like the post is because I think I absolutely understand your point.

I don't know about Sotomayor, but try Helen Thomas' flabby skin, that's always good for a few dozen, "Augh! My eyes!!!1!" comments.

Veeshir   ·  July 16, 2009 11:35 AM

I agree with your general point about biological differences, but what I was talking about are the irrational standards used in political charges of sexism.

As Veeshir correctly notes, the entire process is fraught with contradictions!

Eric Scheie   ·  July 16, 2009 11:38 AM

I didn't want to be too snarky, but it really fits.

You also have to consider the letter after the person's name, whether an (R) or a (D).

For instance, you can make fun of Katherine Harris' makeup (that's an (R)), but you can't make fun of Hillary's cankles (there's that (D))

As you noted, sexism is akin to racism, so the same convention holds.

Clarence Thomas as Uncle Tom? There's that (R), perfectly okay.

Say Obama is unfit for office? Racist (there's that (D)).

It's really quite simple as long as you accept heads they win, tails you lose, on edge goes to them.

Veeshir   ·  July 16, 2009 12:42 PM

C'mon, physical and political questions aside, the horrible affected plummy accent would be reason enough to poke fun at her.

apotheosis   ·  July 16, 2009 1:20 PM

Addendum: still need more justification?

Shanghai Surprise.

You're welcome.

apotheosis   ·  July 16, 2009 1:36 PM

The sagginess of the flesh is far down, way far down, the list of reasons why the woman in that pic is circus-freak ugly. The fact that the flesh sags off a skeleton is especially disgusting. The overly-plastic-surgeried look on her face is problematic. The desperately-seeking the look of a 20 yr younger person, evidenced by the hair and dress, is distressing. And I haven't even got to shrill personality! Or the fact that she hasn't recorded a decent song since "Open Your Heart" in, when was that?, 1933?

So much cattiness. So little time.

Rhodium Heart   ·  July 16, 2009 2:45 PM


The last time I saw Madonna on TV was when she was adopting her son from Mali. She had been taken aback by the judgementalism of those who thought it imprudent. How marvelous, I thought. A woman who, through her professional performances had mocked many of the values and sensibilities of her more conservative fellow citizens, had finally had her moment on the receiving end of that kind of behavior. Sorry but, for this woman, my sympathy bowl is permanently empty.

11B40   ·  July 16, 2009 11:51 PM

Well, I have some sympathy for her. She had a long run at trashing traditional values; it worked because men basically will hover around a young, shapely woman, no matter what.

But, now she is old (I just checked - she is 51, seven years younger than I am). Her decay is accelerated by the uses she has made of her body - too much partying, plastic surgeries at an early age, excessive dieting and exercise. She is aging fast; that befits the "live hard" philosophy she adopted in her youth.

I do feel sorry for her - she is facing a grim future. She will be a hanger-on, a footnoted caption in magazines, and, ultimately, oblivion in a lonely, sad death. We will say "who?" when news of her death hits. When she does die, I don't expect that her Kabbala will comfort her.

Even now, she seems so unhappy and anxious. That is not a happy face, despite the smile.

Linda F   ·  July 17, 2009 7:59 AM

A haiku:

God and the Devil
Flipped a coin, all souls at stake
It landed on edge

Bluesman Mike Lindner   ·  July 20, 2009 2:08 PM

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