Miley Cyrus and Sexualization in America

I’m not one for tabloid media nor do I really care about Miley Cyrus, but this story is everywhere and everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Bill O’Reilly are weighing in on the issue, so I might as well throw my two cents on top of the change heap.

Miley Cyrus and Vanity Fair

Miley Cyrus – who’s currently in the process of legally changing her name from Destiny Hope Cyrus (can you blame her?) – is 15-years-old. She is probably best known for playing Hannah Montana on Disney Channel’s original series by the same name. She was invited to be in Vanity Fair and work with the famous Annie Leibovitz, who is arguably currently the best photographer in the world, known for her tasteful and creative photos of celebrities. The above picture of Miley graces the current issue of VF and seems to have parents, fans and Bill O’Reilly up in arms.

Reeling from the backlash, her handlers no doubt forced her to issue this statement yesterday:

For Vanity Fair, I was so honored and thrilled to work with Annie. I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed.

That just sucks. I can understand damage control – you make a PR move, it backfires, you want to save face – I get that. What I don’t get is throwing other people under the bus who you approved to help you. I also don’t understand who thought it would be a good idea to blame Annie Leibovitz of all people, who is essentially infallible in her arena.

Personally, I think the photo looks great. Annie has managed to make an otherwise plain looking girl look beautiful with this classic pose. I don’t think it’s very erotic at all. People think that Miley was completely nude underneath the blanket, when in reality she was wearing long, black pants. If we replace the blanket with a backless gown, which would show about as much skin, would Miley be condemned as she is?

Sexualization is in the Eye of the Beholder

It’s a funny thing about sexuality. In many cases it’s more about how the viewer sees the subject and less about how the subject projects him or herself. Imagine, if you will, taking 10-years off Miley’s age and make her a 5-year-old who’s just had a bath. She’s wrapped in a blanket, she has wet hair and she’s staring at the camera. Aw, cute picture.

Now add 10-years to Miley’s current age and make her a 25-year-old in the same pose for Vanity Fair. Wow, beautiful, Annie’s done it again!

But at 15 it’s apparently embarrassing, because people fear that pubescent boys and lonely men will ogle her…back…? Society needs a reality check. Is the problem the subject or the viewer’s inappropriate response to the subject?

If the problem is the former then we as a society need to do something about all of those inappropriately dressed cheerleaders, French maids, Girl Scouts, and Japanese and Catholic school girls.

If you ask me, this photo is much racier and provocative than the Vanity Fair spread.

Edit: This post originally stated that Miley Cyrus was on the cover of Vanity Fair, which is incorrect. Working Author regrets the error.

  1. Did she even consider her younger fans look to her as a role model? She is being too sexy too young. And she would of had a say in that vanity fair photo.

    If you added another 10 years to her that pic would be fine – but she’s 15.

    But the photos she takes of herself are more rauncy then that one..

  2. Can’t y’all get it right – NONE of Miley’s pix are on the Vanity Fair COVER.
    The subject pictured on the cover of the June Vanity Fair is the late Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy. And don’t say it doesn’t matter – it matters. If Miley
    were on the cover, it would draw even MORE attention to her presence IN the magazine. My God – you would think that y’all could get right something so simple.

  3. The writer of the article says that the photographer took a plain-looking girl and made her look fabulous. I don’t agree with that at all. I think Miley is a very pretty girl who doesn’t look pretty in that photo. She has the “bedhead” look, which is highly inappropriate, considering her age. It’s kind of strange that this is coming out now, considering the polygamy situation and all the children who were taken away. Most of the young girls around Miley’s age were either pregnant or had already given birth. Everyone’s up in arms because of those girls having babies with much older men. Of course that’s wrong, but here we have a famous 15-year old looking very unlike a 15-year old. What message does all this send to young girls? Can’t kids be kids anymore?

  4. 2. childhoodxlove:

    I think you missed the point of what I wrote, so let me reiterate. There would be no problem if the picture was of a 5-year-old. Nor would there be a problem if the picture was of a 25-year-old. Yet, for some reason, it’s inappropriate during these middle years. That reason has less to do with the subject and more with the viewer.

    Additionally, her young fans would have more than likely never had picked up a Vanity Fair magazine if it weren’t for the media attention her spread was given due to offended adults. The better way to have handled this would have been for parents to instill values into their children that differentiated erotic from art.

    4. arimarie83:

    Your personal opinions on Miley’s looks aside, I think it’s a stretch to compare a teen posing with her back exposed with children who were kept out of society and forced to have sex at an early age. To their credit, the Polygamist Mormon sect did dress modestly, which I’m sure you’d approve of. 😉

  5. Anybody who says that she doesn’t look good in that photo either at best has no artistic vision or at worst is such an over the top hand wringer that they think anybody under the age of 18 showing any kind of skin is somehow the downfall of our society. She looks great and Leibovitz as usual has created another stunning picture. It is understandable with her squeaky clean persona that Miley had to distance herself from the shoot and of course I don’t believe in the abuse or exploitation of 15 year old girls but I think we need to count to ten and relax a little bit on the rhetoric. This picture is nowhere near pornographic, I’m not even sure you can call it suggestive, and Rene and others have pointed out there are more suggestive pics of her out there, ones even taken by Miley herself. Bottom line, even squeaky clean girls that age want to feel attractive, anybody who has seen prom dresses lately can attest to that. You just have to make sure it doesn’t cross the line and this picture definitely doesn’t come close to doing that.

  6. For lack of a better word, I thought the article was just plain stupid. Sorry, but that’s what it seemed to me. No kidding. Of course it’s not inappropriate for a 5 year old to be wrapped in a towel after they just took a bath. It’s not the same thing. Nice try with the analogy, but really, it’s not the same thing at all. And yes, it would be MORE appropriate for a 25 year old to be doing the same thing because they are old enough to do it. The logic of the article doesn’t make sense at all.

    And I don’t agree with the part about making Miley look beautiful. First off, I don’t find her that pretty at all, and second of all, that picture made her look hideous. Her neck has these ‘wrinkles’, her cheeks are even more puffy than usual, and she just looks ugly in that picture in general.

    For the thousandth time, you CAN’T COMPARE one wearing a dress with a low back to one taking a picture topless with just a sheet covering their front. It’s the IDEA of it that makes it wrong, because there is no other reason for one doing that than to sell sex appeal.

  7. I totally agrre with the article!

    If X, happend: “Awww! How precious!” (Nobody really cares about seeing a naked baby)

    If Z, happened, then yes, because they are of age.

    If Y, happened, everybody would question it. It’s not just with this.

    Think back to when you saw your parents watching a movie that was scary. “You’d have nightmares. Wait until you’re older.” Yet, you’d try it out to see if they were right (end up scarred for life, but you found out, right?)

    This is the case with Miley. I don’t think this will scar her for life; however, look at the “graduation” of pics and compare them to the “graduations” of sex and violence in movies. (which the article also points out.)

    And didn’t Blair, Shields, Fanning all raise eyebrows with their questionable roles that were given to them? (Blair: Foul mouthed demon; Shields: A prostitute; Fanning: a very young victim of rape. Yet, they all came out okay despite it being fake and that they obviously had to be “manipulated” (as in coached) to portray it realistically because I’m sure they couldn’t have been able to wrap their brains around what they had to do.)

    Now, those films were like middle/highschool films compared to now whereas all those stars had to be or portray themselves as “college graduates” (Miley undergarment myspace pics)

    Now, fast foward twenty years! Casting directors “manipulate” their candidates into a certain role. The director “manipulates” them into making the action given believable: (Running and screaming usually if it’s a horror. thriller or combo)

    The Miley Lolita pic.

    Sometimes age does come into question; however, if they can’t find the right age for the part, they work around. (Make it seem like you’re older when you’re younger or vice-versa)

    Sometimes it’s sex rather than violence. Here, it’s more the natural body than it’s movements! Now, some actresses have cluases in their contracts that they’ll only do semi-nude (Miley Lolita) or completely nude if they aren’t exposed and the camera crew understands this.

    I’ve seen teens in films Miley’s age who do such actions, but as I said, whether clause or not they know better as it’s either partial or full, but IMPLIED nudity.

    So, the next film (not a porno) that exposes that natural bodies of teens (which will usually be implied unless consent is given), let’s have an uproar! Right! Let’s sue everybody involved, but the actor who was “victimized.” Give me a break!

    So, if Miley was supposed naked in the VF pic, I guess Sharon Stone had on no underwear in the famous “cross knee over the other, smoke and talk” scene in Basic Instinct? However, she older. Makes you wonder.

  8. 7. mostwanted123:

    The analogy isn’t supposed to compare two same things; it’s supposed to compare two similar things that share intrinsic values. With that said, I’ll speak my point plainly, because working with analogies is obviously too much for you: If it’s OK to see a child in the same manner as it is to see an adult (bare back exposed), why does the same person as a teen suddenly “regress” into this taboo subject? Furthermore, if Miley were dressed in a swimsuit, which would decidedly reveal more than in her VF spread, would people care?

    Once again, this is a case of the viewer having the problem.

  9. @Mostwanted123:

    You believe the article makes no sense…why? You don’t even give a reason to support your argument. It’s just: “The article was stupid. Your analogies are wrong. Nice try.” Uh…ok, what was so wrong with the analogies? The whole “controversy” is about her age, which shouldn’t make THAT much of a difference. What the writer of this article is trying to convey is that things that are considered “provocative” or “indecent” are interpreted by each individual. It’s only inappropriate if you see it that way.

    You’re right, the picture doesn’t make her look “fabulous”, because it’s meant to be artistic…she’s in bed, it’s kind of the point. <.< But that’s not the point of the article, nor the controversy. Again, what the writer is saying is that you SHOULD compare a backless dress or swimsuit with that photo, because the IDEA of it being wrong is in the eyes of the beholder. Perverts (and honestly…aren’t all teenage boys pervs, in their own way? :P) will think she’s sexy, others will think she’s not, while some won’t give a damn…I’m with the latter.

    Now, uh, my thoughts…

    I agree with this article wholeheartedly. People are getting way too upset about this. She posed for a (tasteful) photo…what’s the big deal? It was meant to draw attention to Miley (both good…and bad :\) and it succeed.

    She chose to be a part of it and if she REALLY didn’t want to, she could have just said no…like any reasonable person would if they felt it was too revealing, uncomfortable, etc.

  10. I do not think she should have apologized as she was there when the pictures where taken and knew full well her shirt was off. However it is not my place to judge whether she was right or wrong. I think it is a bit ironic however that her mom on Hannah Montana is played by Brooke Shields who was in very riskey movies when she was younger then Miley. This may be over the head of some of the younger but Blue Lagoo and Pretty Baby were very interesting movies for such a young lady. Look at her life and career now. We will see how things pan out for little Miley but she does need to take resposability.

  11. I think you’re being a bit harsh on Mostwanted.
    Clearly they are not just here to flame, and seem to be one of the intelligent people on the board. I am sure they will come back to explain further and from what i’ve saw they have made excellent arguments and points on the photo.

    I would not call the photo tasteful. I don’t even know why people bother using that word. Apparently if it’s not someone bending over or exposing themself playboy style with their legs wide open then it’s considered tasteful. Can there really be such a thing as a tasteful nude shot of a 15 year old girl ..?

    As to what you said about ‘in the eye of the beholder’, if that was Annie’s intention, do you really think that a photographer should be using a 15 year old in that way?
    Of course the whole art vs porn thing is an individual thing, but it is utterly inappropriate to use a child to explore this subject.

    edit: Oh and by the way, I’ve not read all of the actual article yet. I started reading it (and fully intend to finish it and consider his/her points) but from the very start it’s clear that the writer very much likes the photo and appears to be a rabid Annie Leibovitz fan, actually calling her the best photographer in the world when s/he introduces her.
    Hardly objective, are they?

    I think if someone wants to make a serious article about it they should stick to the facts and not use flowery words and phrases like “that just sucks”

    Personally, I am not a fan of either.

  12. 12. MeJoe:

    First, I don’t think the responses to mostwanted123 have gotten out of hand. At least no one called his/her posts “stupid” with nothing to support the insult.

    Now, I always welcome comments, even criticisms, provided they are intelligent. With that said, this is an opinion piece, not a research paper. Therefore, it’s obviously going to have an angle, a bias, a slant. I’m not just reporting the facts. The comments about Annie Leibovitz, however, are closer to pure fact than they are pure opinion. I stated that she is “arguably currently the best photographer in the world,” which you misquoted to sound like rabid fanboyism.

    Additionally, “seriousness” comes in many forms. Consider political cartoons in your morning paper. You’re supposed to appreciate the point they’re making and not the caricatures or artwork. The same can be said for opinion pieces. If you disagree with the point of the article, then state as much. We’d love to read your take on it.

    What you shouldn’t do is skim through an article looking for things not to like and then misrepresenting the article to the world. That doesn’t add anything to the discourse and takes away your credibility.

  13. why would someone pay a 15 year old to pose half naked .i know alot of young stars have done some revealing photo shoots and movies ,but give me a break she’s halve naked!!!!!miley now is like addicted to taking racy pictures.she was my favorite popstar.

  14. What is all the fuss about? Even if she was nude under the sheet, does it matter? You can’t see anything! I heard about the outcry and then saw the picture. I’ve seen more exposed flesh on TV adverts for skin creams. I agree with René – this shows just as much as a backless dress would.

    If Miley was appearing at some swanky premiere with a backless dress, no-one would be making such a fuss. From what I’ve read elsewhere, it sounds like it was incorrectly reported that she was topless in the photos, and then it snowballed from there.

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