In late 1984, Madonna released her second album, “Like a Virgin.” Within months it – and she – became a huge international success. The album sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, and featured several hit songs whose videos are permanently etched into the minds of most 80s kids.
The last single from the album was “Dress You Up,” and the video was simply live footage from “The Virgin Tour”, Madonna’s first tour as a headliner. The song was released the summer I turned 11. It was a time of change in my life: I was beginning to pay more attention to music and artists, and fashion, as tweens generally do. I was playing less with my Barbies and spending more time listening to the radio. The summer I was 11 I started my period, and it was the last months we lived in the small farm house where I grew up – the only home I had ever known up until then.
I still remember the exact moment I first saw the “Dress You Up” video. I was lying on my stomach on the green carpet in our old living room, my chin in my hands, my ankles crossed behind me. Madonna was strutting across the stage in a gaudy multicoloured jacket, worn over a blue lace top that only subtly covered her bra. She had her signature lace fingerless gloves and multiple crucifixes, lace tights under a miniskirt, and a big blue bow in her messy hair.
She walked out on that stage like she owned it, and had two male backup dancers following her every move. I had never seen anything like it. She wore what she wanted, she said what she wanted, she did what she wanted. My 11-year-old self was awestruck. Watching the video, I thought to myself, “If girls can do that, girls can do anything.”
I still believe it, and I still credit Madonna for opening my eyes to the fact. That we have choices. That we can choose to be bold and brash and outspoken and powerful.
I never got to see Madonna live until I was in my late 30s, on her MDNA tour. By then she was 52, and obviously not as energetic as she had been on her earlier tours. But it was a great show nonetheless. She didn’t perform “Dress You Up,” but she did sing “Like a Virgin,” and that’s all it took for me to transport back to my 11-year-old self and that summer when everything changed.
This post, incidentally, was inspired by Emma Watson’s brilliant speech to the UN last month, launching the He for She campaign. I finally got around to watching it last week, and she brought tears to my eyes. She spoke about when she became a feminist, and why, and it reminded me of 1985.