Sunday, May 18, 2008


Back in January I wrote a defense of teen pop-star Miley Cyrus after some so-called "lesbian" pictures of her and a friend began to circulate the internet. This was after another entry from last July where I listed Miley as one of the young stars representing hope for Hollywood's future. Now I find myself eating my words after both her recent Vanity Fair photo shoot and more leaked photos of her posing provocatively.

I have heard the varying arguments on the Vanity Fair thing. I know that some people are saying that it's "beautiful" and "artistic". Okay. If we are speaking in the technical sense then, yes, it is artistic rather than pornographic or whatever. But whether it is an artsy photo or not, the fact still remains that she is a fifteen-year-old girl and the vast majority of her fans are under the age of 10. I know that she is supposedly wearing a nude shirt under the sheet or something like that, but it still gives the illusion that she is naked. In what world is it not erotic to be posing wrapped in what appears to be nothing but a sheet? Whatever the excuses, this is still so obviously intended to be a sensual photograph and I think it is wildly inappropriate.

I think that it is natural for a fifteen-year-old girl to express her sexuality. However, to me, owning one's sexuality means being comfortable with, proud of and aware of one's body. A fifteen-year-old girl expressing her sexuality should not come in the form of her body being sexualized in a way that promotes some type of weird voyeurism in a culture that seems obsessed with the infantilization of beauty. I don't want it to seem like I am trying to say that there is something shameful about the female body. There isn't. The female body should be celebrated -- a belief that I think I have pretty consistently advocated. But as my previous point indicates, I don't think this is an appropriate way of doing that.

I know that Miley has spoken out about this photo and said that she didn't realize, blah blah blah and that she is "so embarrassed." I don't believe that for one second, and Vanity Fair has said that Miley's parents and/or handlers were on set the whole time and saw and approved of the digital version of the photograph. Making Miley's statements even less believable are her newest leaked photos:

The excuse that they were "private photos" and were never intended for the world to see only really works once. By now I think this girl should be smart enough to realize that nothing she does is really ever going to be private. Yeah that sucks, but it's the truth. So why is she continuing to take provocative photos of herself when she has to know that everyone in the world is going to end up seeing them? I don't care what she does in private, but I do care about the image she presents to the world -- an image that millions of little girls are going to emulate. Little girls like my six-year-old sister. I don't think it's really appropriate for a fifteen-year-old to be a sex symbol under any circumstance, but I think it's even less appropriate for a fifteen-year-old girl to be publicly sexualizing herself when she is meant to be an icon for young children.

Furthermore, this all indicates a certain amount of hypocrisy in Miley's and her family's supposed values. In the past she has spoken out against sex before marriage, stating that she believes in "purity." She has also openly spoken about being a "Christian" (read: born-again Christian). Now I have a real problem with Evangelical Christian "values" to begin with, so I don't really care whether she is following them. But it is annoying for me to hear her say on the one hand that she wants to remain "pure" until marriage and then on the other hand to see her displaying her body for every pervert, pedophile and adolescent boy (or girl!). Is she trying to say that the only thing sacred about the female body is the hymen? So much for being wholesome.

The whole thing really bothers me because I wanted to believe that she really was a good role model and might actually make it through her stardom untainted. But I was wrong. But, you know, at least the other young women that I wrote about last summer still seem to remain good role models. Of course, Emma Watson and Raven Symone have never reached the legendary superstar status of "Hannah Montana". So, can a young girl really become so famous, so fast without making these types of mistakes? In our society can a girl really be under such intense scrutiny without eventually engaging in some type of exhibitionism? It seems like the answer is maybe no, but I really couldn't say. Miley seems to be one-of-a-kind in the way that things have happened for her.

But then again, all of this attention and focus on Miley and on "fallen" stars such as Britney and Lindsay really takes a lot of attention away from the fact that there are many young women who grew up on film or on TV and didn't make these types of mistakes. Those girls and women are too often forgotten, and certainly don't get enough credit. They really should be cited more often as evidence that fame is not a guarantee of dysfunction.

Hilary Duff, a young woman who never reached Miley's level of fame, but who has followed a similar career trajectory as the fifteen-year-old, was very diplomatic when speaking about Cyrus' Vanity Fair shoot: "People are pushing you to do something, and if you want to do it, that's your choice, you know? It's not what I would choose to do, but if she did then that's fine. That's her choice." The notable part of her statement being "It's not what I would choose to do." Duff, now 20, is no longer an icon for little girls, but from the ages of fourteen to sixteen she starred in the popular Disney Channel series Lizzie McGuire, making her a household name among girls aged seven to fourteen. During her Disney years she also starred in a Disney Channel Original Film, Cadet Kelly, which at that time became the most watched program in the Channel's history. She went on to star in several films which, thanks to Duff's popularity among young girls, ended up being quite successful at the box office. In 2002 she began a music career, with her albums being popular within the tween and teen audience. In 2007 she was listed as #7 in Forbes "Top 20 Earners Under 25." She has also made it onto Maxim's Hot 100 list. Although I have a big problem with that stupid list, I guess it shows that guys think she's sexy.

Even during Hilary Duff's years of high popularity, she always managed to maintain a pretty wholesome image, even when she was dating Good Charlotte singer Joel Madden at the tender age of 17 (he's nine years her senior). Even now that she's no longer a minor, she has managed to be sexual while still leaving something to the imagination. Just take her Maxim photo shoot from last year. The cover is about as revealing as it gets.

But even if she had wanted to be more revealing, it doesn't matter anymore. She's 20 and no longer a Disney Channel star. The important thing is that when she was, she was never caught up in the type of controversy that Miley has found herself in.

There are plenty of other examples of former child/teen stars who managed to avoid controversy during their younger years (Natalie Portman, Raven, Mandy Moore, Emma Watson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anna Paquin, Christina Ricci, Melissa Joan Hart, Soleil Moon Frye, Scarlett Johansson, Jena Malone, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amanda Bynes, Tia and Tamera Mowry, and Reese Witherspoon. Even the Olsen Twins kept it clean during their early years). So let's give them some credit and remember that not everyone is doomed for failure.

Fame is not an excuse for bad behavior and poor judgment. As Mandy Moore says in reference to her own life, "
It’s a choice to put yourself out there in such a public way, and I really don’t thrive on that attention." I'd like to end by linking to an awesome article about Natalie Portman, which gives her "formula" for success. The writer of the article makes perhaps one of the most important points in point number one (Be Smart):

"Lots of starlets can say they did a hot photo spread for Maxim. But how many can claim to
have co-written a research paper that was published in a scientific journal? Portman did it — twice.

But being smart isn’t just about having a bachelor’s degree in psychology and speaking several languages. Portman is smart about her image. She traversed two minefields early on — she wasn’t just a child actress, she was a child actress playing sexually precocious roles in “The Professional” and “Beautiful Girls” — but came out unscathed.

How? Well, ta
ke a look at her behavior. Does she say moronic things to interviewers? No. Does she embarrass herself publicly? Never. Do you see much of her in the press when she’s not out plugging a movie? Are her personal habits and relationships analyzed and deconstructed throughout the tabloids? Nuh-uh. And that’s because you can avoid that stuff if you want to. But you have to want not to be photographed all the time. And that’s smart."

I couldn't have said it any better myself. If only Miley were listening.

No comments: