DoppleMadgester – My Life as Madonna

Recently, as I stood admiring the plethora of differently sized and shaped phalluses throughout human history displayed on the walls of the Penis room at the Barcelona Erotic Museum, I could see a couple eyeing a video positioned on the wall then back to me. Curious, I glanced up to see a half-clothed Madonna in a video from her ‘Truth or Dare’ days.  The young woman smiled shyly and pointed to the screen. The young man asked cautiously, “Usted?” Is that you? I laughed and shook my head. They seemed disappointed. From the many times in my life of being stopped on the street, this sighting of the rock star in the Erotic Museum seemed the most appropriate. 

This “Are you Madonna?” conversation used to pop up regularly at the pinnacle of the rock star’s celebrity. Close friends and relatives could never quite see it, but strangers sure did. I knew that many people are doppelgangers, or mirror images, to famous people, but I truly could not see the similarities until one day when Madonna was in her ‘motherhood’ phase in the UK doing interviews in demure dresses with little makeup on. My youngest sister had watched the video and called to say, “Oh, now I see it.” The interview was with a plain faced Madonna in frumpy almost matronly clothes. “So, what you’re saying is that I look like Madonna on a bad day?” “Yup, that’s why I didn’t see it before.” 

My go-to response to the question of “do you know you look like Madonna?” was to say, “I wish I had her money,” or, “Oh, you know us Italian-American girls. We all look alike.” That backfired on me one day early in her rise to fame when a young Marine stopped me on a beach in La Jolla, California for an autograph. After explaining that I was emphatically not the rock star, he asked me, “What’s your name?” When I uttered my last name, to his ears it sounded close enough to Madonna’s last name, Ciccone, that he shouted with such glee, “You are her!!” that I couldn’t help but sign a napkin for him. I have visions of this man now in middle-age safeguarding that signature in a locked box with him thinking he’ll be able to cash in on the name of Sue Camaione someday. 

Which brings me to my memoir, The Practical Seductress, being published at the end of April. I wondered how much of what you look like shapes what you become. If I had looked like Mother Theresa, would I be a nun now? Or like Betty White and be a comic actress? Could it be that looking like Madonna may have shaped my outlook on sensuality, my approach to pleasure, and my desire for sexual freedoms that I searched for my entire life? I like to say, since I am 4 years her senior, that “Madonna looks like me. She just doesn’t know it,” but it’s a double-edged sword.

As Madonna ages, with the help of medical assistance, we seem less and less to look alike and more resemble a distant memory of desperately lost youth. Or so it seems in the US at least. I realized that this Sue as Madonna resurgence keeps happening. Besides Barcelona, it occurred again recently in Chile. On our way to the airport in Santiago the Uber driver suddenly turned on a Madonna concert video, complete with her gyrating on stage. He flipped down the rearview mirror to check me out again, then told me in Spanish, “You look like Madonna. Can you dance too?” As a matter of fact, I do fashion myself a dancer. Luckily, I had my Chilean husband translate and give him the disappointing news that I was merely his wife, not the rock star. Yet before leaving the cab, the driver insisted we take photos of him with me, Madonna who had traveled in his car, to prove to his relatives that he had driven the real Madge. I wish I had that photo and the many others of me taken with strangers along my travels. The resemblance, though, at times was not always a joyful joking moment. I’ve also had many people tell me that I looked like her and then pontificate on how shameful, disgusting, and downright sinful the rock star was in their opinion. I normally flipped my hand in the air and would say, “I only wish I was as talented and as much of a businesswoman as she is.” When they told me “She’s too old to act like that,” I would reply, “while Mick Jagger isn’t?”

In my writings and memoir, I delve into the mysteries of the sexual double standard, of why many still see men as studs and women as sluts in the pursuit of pleasure. It reminded me of my most uncomfortable moment of comparison in the middle of a business presentation to a client. The man, a high up in the government agency Director, starred at me throughout my slide show. Suddenly, he slammed his pen on the table and said, “That’s it.” Wondering what I had said in the presentation to set him off, and my mind jumbling to find a way to assuage a client’s ego, he almost shouted, “You look like Madonna. I’ve been trying to figure it out for the last hour.” Relief washed over me as I watched his pen bounce towards me and fall to the floor until he added, “Don’t like her. She’s a sl…” He didn’t finish, but rather coughed once and said, “let’s just say she’s not nice.” 

My ire rose a bit. Afterall, I am a Madonna fan. The ‘not a nice girl’ crap had also been thrown at me for most of my life as I sought to assert myself in situations, to empower myself, and to find my voice. “If I was Madonna,” I said, “would I be in this room giving this presentation to a government worker?” My boss almost choked on his coffee thinking I had blown our chances at securing the contract. Instead, the Director seemed to have a coming to Madonna moment and nodded. “Good point,” he said. 

A sliver of these comparisons is in my memoir, pointing out how people judge your character by mere physical traits, how we glorify sex while punishing sexuality. The next day after the meeting with the Director I went to the beauty salon for a haircut. The hairdresser pointed out the resemblance. Another said she knew a woman who looked like Cher. The chit-chat led to multiple comparisons with customers when in walked a woman who made us all stop. “Oh, no,” said the woman in black wavy hair, “I’m not her.” A giggle of relief surged around the room. This lovely young woman, much to her chagrin, happened to look like Monica Lewinsky. 

“Are you okay?” I asked when I saw how pale she had become. “Well,” she answered, “every time I change my hair cut, she does too, so it keeps happening. But the worse is when people stare at my lips as if expecting me to feel her shame.”

To Ms. Lewinsky’s credit she has emerged today as a voice for those being publicly bullied about their sexual choices, good or bad. Her TED Talk on Shame is not to be missed. My heart went out to not only the look-alike at the beauty salon that day, but to Ms. Lewinsky herself, and to all of us who bear the burden of living in a world of sexualized double standards. At that moment, though, I also realized resembling the in-charge, truth or dare, I am woman hear me roar Madge—my DoppleMadgester—is truly something to embrace.  

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