59 Life Lessons We’ve Learned From Madonna

Madonna is a DGAF icon who has been teaching us how to be ourselves since before we were even born.

Since today is her 59th birthday, we’ve assembled a list of 59 lessons she’s taught us over the years. Long live the queen!

NOTE: Please allow this extensive playlist to be your soundtrack while you read.

1. Sometimes you don’t have to listen to your parents. God knows it’s not always a great idea to “keep your baby,” but 1986’s “Papa Don’t Preach” gave teenagers the world over the agency to make up their own minds about important decisions. No wonder Madonna’s been controversial since day one.

2. It’s okay to express yourself. “It makes no difference if you’re black or white, if you’re a boy or a girl.” We all know these lyrics now, but when “Express Yourself” first came out in 1989, speaking your mind was still a novel concept for some people. Sing it, Madge.

3. A scandal only becomes a scandal if you let it. When nude photos of a pre-fame Madonna were published in both Playboy and Penthouse in 1985, she took a cue from Marilyn Monroe and proclaimed, “I’m not ashamed.” And now no one even remembers that it happened. The “so what?” approach is always best when someone tries to slut-shame you.

4. Being sexual doesn’t make you a bad person. From day one, but particularly from the “Erotica” era onward, Madonna has been out here making it okay for women to talk about and be about sex. Clearly the battle isn’t over, but women all over the world owe Madonna a huge debt for making it okay to talk about this stuff in public. Even if you’re not out here posting nude selfies or wearing cone bras, Madonna pushed the boundaries far enough that women face a bit less judgment for being sexual.

5. Experiment with different brow shapes. As evidenced in this video, she’s had everything from 80s caterpillars to drawn-on 90s rainbow brows, so don’t be afraid to change your brow shape.

6. Women’s bodies can be ripped, too. Madonna was a dancer first, and she had the body to prove it. Even before she was making headlines for her yoga obsession in the 2000s, she was much more muscular than your average female superstar in the 80s. It’s tough to remember any female celeb before her who had visible biceps.

Getting my horses ready for the show………Giddy Up . New Zealand. ❤️#rebelheartour

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

7. Confidence is everything. Madonna doesn’t have the typical tiny, girly facial features that the mainstream found appealing for most of the 20th century. But she didn’t give a fuck, and that’s why she’s one of the hottest women alive.

8. Anyone can be a victim of rape or domestic violence. Madonna is seen as strong and tough, and plenty of boneheads might assume that means she’s less at risk for abuse or sexual assault. But it’s not true. Her first husband, Sean Penn, allegedly abused her (although she’s since contradicted police reports of the abuse) and she says she was raped at knifepoint when she first moved to NYC.

9. You can be part of a cool clique without compromising your sense of self. Madonna palled around with art world icons Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol, but she never let them eclipse her.

My first Ukulele performance!

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

10. At the same time, friendships don’t have to be part of your brand. Unlike some of the newer pop stars, Madonna didn’t flaunt her friendships as a way to prove she was human. She’s been besties with stars like Debi Mazar, Rosie O’Donnell, and Sandra Bernhard, but somehow these friendships all felt way more legit than the ones stars love to blast all over social media today.

11. You’re never too old to make it big. Today, it can seem like if you don’t get your start on the Disney Channel at age eight, you’re screwed. But Madonna was nearly 30 when she had her first hit single, which only made her a more fully formed artist and persona when she did get big.

12. Short hair can be sexy. When you’re used to having long hair your whole life, the idea of going short can be terrifying, but Madonna proved when she hit the scene and inspired millions of copycats in the 80s that short hair is gorgeous, too.

When i was a boy. New Jersey Truck stop! 1979. Hunger is the best Sauce.

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

13. You can still become British, even if you were born to Italians in the Midwest. Madonna was married to director hottie Guy Ritchie in the 2000s and they moved to the British countryside. She decided to start speaking in a slightly British accent. People were aghast, which is hilarious because who cares? The point is you can speak in a British accent if you want, it’s your life.

14. Breasts come in different shapes and sizes. The Blond Ambition tour was all about the cone bra — and it’s not hard to imagine that making pointy-boobed girls feel better about their bazoombas. Sadly, that would all be undone with the advent of giant round Baywatch basketball boobs a few years later, but it was pretty glorious to have a different kind of boob shape celebrated for a hot minute.

15. Pissing off the establishment is fun. Madonna rocketed to fame during the Reagan era, when mainstream society was in a super conservative mood. She pissed people off from day one and had a great time doing it — plus she proved that you can still be famous and powerful if all the square white dudes in power hate you. In fact, if your goal is to be an iconoclast, that can only help you.

16. “Pretty” doesn’t matter. Madonna is known for reinventing herself and her look every few years, and very rarely has her persona included being pretty, quiet, or ladylike. She simply has no use for these typically female characteristics — and look how far it’s gotten her.

17. Don’t listen to the critics. Nowadays, celebrities get bent out of shape by negative Instagram comments coming from nobodies who live in their parents’ basements. Madonna, on the other hand, has a much thicker skin. Pretty much everything she does is consistently panned not only by the nobodies, but by respected critics. Do you think she whines about being bullied when that happens? No. She moves on.

18. Never stop trying new things. Similarly, despite the constant criticism she faces from all angles, Madonna is never afraid to try new things — whether that includes acting, directing, writing children’s books, starring in a musical, or the aforementioned British accent. So many people keep from trying new things out of fear that they’ll lose what they already have. Well, guess what? Madonna is rich and successful, but she still goes ahead with whatever creative project she wants — whether the entire world’s against her or not. Let’s be more like her.

19. You don’t owe anyone an answer — not even Oprah. As both a journalist and an Oprah stan, it pains me to write this, but Madonna is one of the only celebs who ever pulled off evading an Oprah question with humor and panache. When Oprah asked Madonna if she’d ever marry the father of her child, Madonna replied, “I don’t know, are you gonna marry Steadman?” Solid point, bb.

20. No matter how sad you are about loss, it doesn’t have to define you. Madonna’s mother died when she was only six. This hugely affected the way she lived her life and she talks about it a lot, even in interviews, but she didn’t let her grief stop her from living her life — in fact, it probably propelled her forward.

21. It’s okay to be unlikeable. Women often fall into a trap of trying to please everyone, but Madonna has never had any issue showing people her unlikeable side. Watch her amazing 1991 documentary “Truth or Dare” for proof that she’s always been willing to show people it takes some bossiness to be a boss.

22. Wear what you want to wear. Even if that includes ass-less chaps on the classiest red carpet of the year, at age 57.

Still Deserve Donuts!

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

23. You can’t please everyone. Madonna has made it clear at every turn that the only person she cares about pleasing is herself — and that’s not considered very ladylike, so a lot of people don’t like her. Clearly it’s working for her, though.

24. It doesn’t matter if you make more $$ than your husband. Madonna is one of the richest, most powerful women in the world. Does she let that intimidate men? No, she doesn’t care. And she’s dated plenty of guys poorer than her to prove it.

25. It’s okay to call out copiers. Although Madonna has made a career out of appropriating other people’s aesthetics in homage (and sometimes appropriating other cultures in offensive ways, which is her legacy’s major downside), she never shies away from calling out someone she thinks has ripped her off. When Lady Gaga released “Born This Way” and people couldn’t help but notice its similarities to Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Madonna incorporated it into her live show and even publicly said “Born This Way” “feels reductive.” Classic shade.

26. Never turn down a good feud — but keep it classy. Madonna knows how to hit back when someone comes at her, but she always manages to keep the higher ground. Her spat with Elton John is legendary, but he’s the only one who’s resorted to name-calling, referring to Madge as “a fairground stripper.” Courtney Love’s also come for Madonna, in a now-classic VMA pre-show moment where Madonna brushed her off saying Courtney was “in dire need of attention.” OUCH.

I’m All Ears ………….☕️!!!!!

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

27. It’s fine to date younger guys. “I’ve never done anything conventional, so why would I start now?” Madonna said when an ABC interviewer started prodding her about why she dates younger guys.

28. Don’t be a pushover. People expect women and girls to be pushovers, and if you aren’t one, people might not like it. But as Madonna points out, that really doesn’t matter.

29. Controversy will blow over — even if it’s coming from the Vatican. Yes, Madonna pissed off the Vatican because of how her live show played with Catholic imagery. Guess who cared? Pretty much everyone but Madonna, and now no one even remembers.

30. Nothing is sacred. Similarly, Madonna never stops subverting Catholic imagery and other things that represent power. She has no problem tearing down idols and she’s opened plenty of people’s minds because of it.

Once my baby always my baby. Happy Sweet 16!

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

31. Sometimes you just have to boss your boyfriend around. For whatever reason, Warren Beatty was one of the biggest babes of the 20th century. Madonna dated him but seemingly did not give two fucks about his reputation as a ladykiller. Some of the most famous women in the world have wilted before Warren, but not Madonna. “Don’t just stand back there, Warren,” she barks in this clip from “Truth or Dare.” “Get over here.”

32. “You can be a spiritual person and like to go shopping at Prada.” Self-explanatory.

33. You don’t have to like hydrangeas. Also self-explanatory.

34. It’s okay to suck your thumb at 58. Madonna appears on the next cover of LOVE magazine makeup-free and sucking her thumb. It’s tough to imagine another 58-year-old doing that, but Madonna once again DGAF.

35. Befriend fashion designers. The fashion world is just as open to pushing boundaries as Madonna herself, so she’s been embraced by them for years. This is why she’s consistently shot in Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy, and previously Jean-Paul Gaultier.

36. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. During the “Erotica” era, Madonna had to defend her decision to be sexually open over and over again. She pointed out that AIDS and teen pregnancy rates were at an all-time high way before she started putting sex on TV, so her career and her openness clearly weren’t causing these issues.

37. It’s okay to critique mainstream feminism. In the same interview, Madonna explained why feminists had been missing her point all along: “I may be dressing like the typical bimbo or whatever but I’m in charge. I’m in charge of my fantasies. I put myself in these situations with men. People don’t think of me as a person who’s not in charge of my career or life — isn’t that what feminism is all about, equality for men and women? Aren’t I in charge of my own life?”

38. It doesn’t take much to cause a stir when you’re female. Case in point: Madonna’s kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs was basically the hugest pop culture moment of that year, and when you think about it, it was pretty benign. Not to mention the kisses only lasted about three seconds total.

He Changed The World!! A True Visionary. What a loss. I’m Devastated. This is Not A Love Song.

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

39. You’re never done evolving. Madonna has had so many identities over the years and she’s still changing all the time to keep things fresh. Why not try it yourself?

40. Three houses are better than one. Madonna occupies an entire city block in NYC with three townhouses she roped together into one megamansion. #Goals.

41. Be appreciative of younger pop stars who don’t blatantly copy you. Although Madonna and Lady Gaga have had their squabbles, Madonna and Katy Perry have collaborated on a steamy bondage photo shoot. No hard feelings here — probably because Katy doesn’t try to step on Madonna’s turf. 

42. Obsessing over exercise and health food pays off. Madonna’s always at the forefront of new trends — she was rapping about soy lattes all the way back in 2005 — and that’s part of the reason why she’s still able to kick ass on tour and hold her own with dancers who are less than half her age.

Sometimes a cookie is just a cookie!

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

43. Sometimes you need to revisit your roots. One of Madonna’s best recent albums was “Confessions of a Dance Floor,” which threw things back to her roots as a dancer. She didn’t linger there long, switching to more experimental sounds on her next few albums, but it was a nice little #tbt for her longtime fans.

Yasssssssssss Bishes!

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

44. Always choose “dare.” Madonna wrote all about that topic for Harper’s Bazaar back in 2013.

45. You can make a big impact dressed down and with barely any makeup, too. That was our biggest takeaway from her video for “Don’t Tell Me” in 2006, at least. After she released it, it seemed like flannel shirts made their biggest resurgence since the grunge era.

46. Movie collabs can be cool, as “Beautiful Stranger,” Madonna’s theme song for an Austin Powers sequel, and “Die Another Day,” her Bond song, made abundantly clear.

47. Have hot kids. I mean…

48. Sometimes you just need to have a moody phase. “Frozen” was not Madonna’s most titillating single or fashion era, but hey, it’s good to turn on when you’re pissed off at someone.

49. Because “when you aren’t popular and you don’t have a social life, it gives you more time to focus on your future.” See? It literally doesn’t matter if people don’t like you.

50. Even your fans. Madonna is known for not being warm and fuzzy with her fans, which can definitely be a bummer for those that meet her — but hey, that’s just her and we wouldn’t want her any other way.

51. Chickens can be chic. It helps if you pair them with a massive Georgian mansion.

52. Dancing on tables is always a good idea. Madge spent last August 15th ushering in her birthday with a quick stompy-stomp on a table in Havana, Cuba. Puts my last birthday to shame, I’ll tell you that much.

53. Keep up to date with new talent, even if it’s not in your field. When Madonna played Madison Square Garden last year, she asked Amy Schumer to open for her — then hazed her by making her come out and dance onstage later in the show. It was a great example of how to pass the torch to an up-and-comer instead of being wary of them.

54. Nothing really matters. It’s the name of a Madonna song, and a great thing to remind yourself when you’re freaking out about pretty much anything. What would Madonna do? She’d probably get over it, whatever it is.

55. Dancing solves everything. As Madge sings in Vogue, “When all else fails and you long to be something better than you are today, I know a place where you can get away, it’s called a dance floor.” So get to it.

56. Figure out what keeps you going and cling to it. Madonna had a tough time in the early years, but she had a secret weapon. “I wondered if it was all worth it,” she said, “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.”

57. Don’t wait for anyone. As she sings in “Hung Up,” it’s okay to move on once someone’s shown you they don’t care. “Waiting for your call baby night and day, I’m fed up, I’m tired of waiting on you.” If Madonna won’t wait for a fuckboy, neither should you!

Cleaning House on the LES!

A photo posted by Madonna (@madonna) on

58. Some things just merit a “fuck you.” Madonna pissed a lot of people off earlier this year at the Women’s March when she said “fuck you” not once, but twice during her speech — which was being broadcast live on like every news channel. Oops, but also who cares? and fuck you!

59. Age ain’t nothing but a number. These days, the thing about Madonna that pisses people off the most is that, at age 59, she’s still out there doing what she was doing at 29. Well, guess who doesn’t give a fuck? Madonna. And that’s why she’s able to continually to live her life the way she wants.

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