Madonna: Lessons in Resilience from the Queen of Pop

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

No I am not talking about Lady Gaga or Britney Spears. Maybe it is a generational thing but I feel that there would be no Britney Spears or Lady Gaga without Madonna. Her influence is seen in the fashion, style and songs of many of the female pop stars of today. Okay maybe Madonna is pretentious and annoying. What is up with her changing accents for example? Maybe you never thought her talent was all that great. There may be better vocalists. Maybe you think she is egotistical. Despite these public perceptions the one thing many people say about Madonna is that she is one tough (rhymes with witch). And I use that word with the utmost respect. In other words Madonna possesses a trait which we all need in order to survive life's challenges. I am talking about resilience.

Madonna, who is now in her fifties, was born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan to parents Silvio "Tony" Ciccone and Madonna Fortin. It was not long into Madonna's childhood when she had to face tragedy. Her mother, diagnosed with breast cancer, died at the age of 30 when Madonna was only five years old. Her father remarried and Madonna was resentful of her new stepmother's stern rules and regulations. Her home situation helped to mold Madonna's rebellious nature. As a teen Madonna developed her unique style of fashion and she frequented underground nightclubs to get away from her home life.

Despite Madonna's wild child ways she still received straight A's and even got to graduate from high school a semester earlier than her peers. She also learned to express herself in dance and won a full scholarship to the University of Michigan's dance program. Madonna dropped out of college to move to New York to pursue a career in dance. She was poor and in need of money to pay the rent so she did some nude modeling and was also a showgirl. Madonna then discovered her singing talents when she joined and created several bands. Her first hit was "Everybody" which was number one on the dance charts in 1982.

The following year her star really took off with a full album entitled Madonna which included hits such as "Borderline", "Lucky Star", and "Holiday." The rest is a long history of chart breaking success in a traditionally male oriented business.

This is a woman who was named the world's wealthiest female musician by Forbes magazine in 2008. Madonna has sold more than 70 million albums internationally. Madonna is not only a singer and dancer but she is also a smart businesswoman. Along with having her own clothing line, she is also a writer, actress, and producer. She has earned the title of diva through her many successes. None of these were given to her. She earned them by starting at the bottom and working her way up. Not too shabby for a girl who began with barely enough money to pay her rent.

It was my first year of college that I discovered Madonna. I had some friends over to watch MTV (when MTV still played music) and we got to see one of Madonna's first videos. I was in the kitchen when one of my friends who was watching called me over, "You gotta see this video, this girl is going to be a star." My friend was right. I remember preparing for my classes and blasting "Lucky Star" on my tape player. In some ways I feel like I grew up with Madonna. And one of the things I admired and still do about Madonna much more so than her music is her ability to remain strong no matter what was happening in her life.

While other stars may have succumbed to drug addiction (she has recently admitted to using drugs but not abusing them), public meltdowns (think of Britney Spears going after paparazzi with an umbrella and shaving her head), or ending one's career by creating too much controversy (think of Sinead O'Connor ripping up a picture of the pope on SNL), Madonna has remained above the fray. Controversial? Yes. But never self-sabotaging. Never a victim. And unlike other stars with great sex appeal such as Marilyn Monroe, Madonna is never vulnerable to her sexuality or fame. She owns them both.

Part of Madonna's staying power, in my opinion, is her great adaptability. She has never been afraid to change her style, her fashion, or pursue other talents. The same young girl who wore torn fishnets and her hair in a bow later transformed into the glamorous movie star in the film Evita, portraying the life of of Eva Peron. While some people cling to what they know, Madonna understands the need to re-invent oneself in order to remain successful. Otherwise she would have remained a one-hit-wonder and a distant memory.

Another aspect of Madonna's resilience is her attitude. I am sure most of you have heard about the controversy over Lady Gaga's song, Born This Way, and how it sounds remarkably like Madonna's Express Yourself. The similarity is striking to most people who have heard Madonna's original song. I was eager to see how Madonna would handle this. While Lady Gaga admits no wrong-doing it does seem that Madonna must have influenced her. After a year of silence Madonna finally confessed that when she first heard Born this Way,
it did sound a little familiar. She would add to the press: "I thought, this is a wonderful way to redo my song," And in an interview with Cynthia McFadden from ABC news Madonna is asked if it felt annoying to hear a song which sounded so much like hers. Her answer is priceless. Madonna is quoted as saying, "It felt reductive." When asked if that was a good or bad thing Madonna smiled and told McFadden to "look it up." I thought Madonna was polite but she made her point with style and charm. There were no hissy-fits here. She just set the record straight.

And then there was the Golden Globes award show where both Madonna and Elton John were up for the same award for best original song in a motion picture. Elton John dropped the F-bomb when asked before the show if Madonna might win. His response was that "Madonna had no chance of winning." When she did win, Elton John's husband lashed out on facebook with more profanities against Madonna. She took this all in stride and hoped that Elton would speak to her again someday.

Madonna also had to put up with Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes who is known for his cutting and sometimes mean spirited remarks about his fellow celebrities. Gervais introduced Madonna by saying she was still "like a virgin" with a sarcastic snort. Madonna quickly put him in his place by saying, "If I'm just like a virgin Ricky why don't you come over here and do something about it. I haven't kissed a girl in quite a few years, at least not on TV." Oh snap While other people might have gotten upset, Madonna swiftly put him in his place with a couple of witty rejoinders.

You don't become that successful without knowing how to stand up for yourself. There will always be people who will be jealous of your talents and achievements. Madonna may have her critics but you have to admit she has the chutzpah to stay in her career as long as she has. I personally hope she keeps going. I can only imagine what I could do in life if I had an ounce of Madonna's self-confidence and fearlessness to take risks. Resilience comes in many forms. I think Madonna possesses this trait in spades.

What are your thoughts about Madonna? Love her, hate her, never heard of her, or are you simply neutral? Do you feel that Madonna is a resilient woman and entertainer? Or do you think that her character flaws outweigh her virtues? Do you have a favorite Madonna song? Do tell all. Enquiring minds want to know.

Anne Windermere
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Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."