Miley Cyrus headed down a slippery (half-naked) slope?

BlogHer Original Post

It's everywhere by now, and surely you've already seen it -- Miley Cyrus did a shoot with Vanity Fair, and the 15-year-old Hannah Montana star's cover shot features her looking over her naked shoulder, holding a satin bed sheet (or something that looks like one) over her naked front.

Nakedness! On the cover of a magazine! From a minor who is not just a tween idol, but one who's been owned by Disney and continually praised for not making the same mistakes other pop stars have!

The ensuing media storm has been extensive, and no wonder. From the New York Times to unknown bloggers, Ms. Cyrus is a hot topic right now.

What are the issues here? I'd say there are many. There's the matter of Cyrus being a legal minor, for one. There's her celebrity status and -- along with it -- her association with Disney and the whole "role model" position she is therefore to assume, like it or not. There's the debate of what is "appropriate" and what is "artistic," and we could talk about that for days, maybe even weeks or months. There's the matter of sexuality in America and its expression and where one places lines and whether there is a single standard one can pinpoint. And of course, there's the parenting issue.

Opinions are flying fast and furious through the blogosphere, that's for sure.

Jamie Lee Curtis blogged on the Huffington Post about it, first sounding as though she wasn't sure what the big fuss was about:

Apparently young Ms. Cyrus has apologized for something she was told would be artistic and now feels embarrassed about. I feel for her. Of course she is embarrassed. She is a young girl. She shouldn't have to deal with any of this. I don't feel that she was duped. I know the integrity of Ms. Liebovitz and the magazine and I know there were people present at the shoot that should have been looking out to make sure that this didn't happen. In the offending photo she looks tousled and soft and vulnerable and yes...even sexy. She is fifteen after all, and the word sex is starting to come up. I seem to remember a fourteen/fifteen year old Brooke Shields commenting that nothing came between her and her Calvins. There would be no problem if Ms. Cyrus doesn't represent something that is counterintuitive to that image.

At the end of her piece, though, she does give a nod to the age issue which I think is rather telling:

I know how Miley feels. I too was a little embarrassed by my recent topless "scandal" and the subsequent parodies, but I am an adult woman. I protected myself during the shoot and I can take the heat. I only wish that her guardians had protected her.

It's not clear to me whether Ms. Curtis wishes she'd been protected from having the pictures taken or from coming under scrutiny afterwards, however.

BlogHer's own editor Shannon had very recently held Miley Cyrus up as an example of how to handle fame without succumbing to the loss of balance and normalcy, and now she's furious to see what's happened here.

Jane at What About Mom? disagrees with Shannon about the ensuing talk with her children having to be a hard one:

But one thing about the handwringing bothers me. While I can only imagine how hard it is to have to explain to young sons about topless photos, I think we might miss a great teaching moment as parents if we approach it as Shannon seems to, angry that there’ll have to be an “unpleasant conversation in our house tonight, about modesty and decision-making and growing up too fast.”

[...]

First of all, the conversation could be pleasant, I think. [...]

But I think the greatest lesson to be learned here is about peer pressure, and how it can trick even parents, even sophisticated (one imagines), fame-experienced grown-ups. [...]

Miley's dad Billy Ray had a chance to be a real hero on that photo shoot, to stand up and say, "No. In our family we don't take off our clothes in public." And then to his daughter, he could have said, "Honey, you can say no to ANYONE. You never have to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, and if anyone ever asks you to, I hope you’ll come to me for help."

If he wanted to get real mushy, he could've added, "Miley, you and me, and your mom (and sisters and brothers). We're a team. We decide what’s right for us, and no matter what anyone else thinks or does or says in the world, we can do what’s right for us."

But I'm jaded about the Cyrus family business. I'm afraid they're probably more concerned with spinning the blame and soothing fans to spend time correcting their daughter's erroneous belief that "you can’t say no to Annie."

I love Jane's attitude, but I wonder if we're not having an issue of semantics, here. Those of us who weren't there (i.e., everyone except the folks working on the shoot) can only guess at how exactly this went down, of course, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I doubt Ms. Cyrus wanted to say no but felt coerced. I suspect she was there with a world-famous photographer who made a suggestion and she agreed, period. My question (and the question on many's minds) is whether or not her parents had second thoughts when this pose was suggested.

And it's on the parental Cyruses that the fickle finger of blame is most often coming to rest, of course. Over at cha.otic the author is quite clear on where she's pinpointed the problem:

Miley Cyrus didn’t cause this. Britney Spears didn’t cause this. Parents who allowed this trend to continue caused this. The media created an age where girls are pimped out so they (the media) can make a buck. And the victims? Just look at Britney Spears. She is a lost, spoiled, sick little girl who is in over her head, lost her children, and who is, I’d be willing to guess, the loneliest person in the world. Other girls suffer the same fate by turning to drugs, carelessness, and sex to validate their existance.

I feel sorry for Miley. She’s in for a world of trials before she’s actually an established, successful adult as she desperately wants to be in this shoot. At the end of the day, she is only at child.

Cyn at Cyn City is calling for Mom:

And yeah, Miley's too young if she wants to keep working for Disney to do these kind of shoots ( cover afte the jump) and if as she states, it embarrasses her, lesson learned, no more "back shots" under she's out from under her Ddisney obligations to be perfect. Judging however from recent photos, Miley's going through a phase where she's really chomping at the bit, pushing boundaries, but she'd best not yank Disney's chain unless she wants to be a former employee. We'll see how it goes. I think she needs handlers that don't include her father at something like this photo shoot 'cos obviously, he let it happen. Is there a Miley's mom or is she a step, or what? who is calling the shots?

(It looks to me from the slideshow on the Vanity Fair site like her mother was present at the shoot, by the way.)

Some parents are happy to place the blame squarely on Miley Cyrus herself, however, and they're taking it personally. Check out Reenita at Hybrid Mom:

As Hybrid Mothers of impressionable daughters, there is a lot we need to do to present ourselves as viable role models. Work, cook, nurture, inspire…and above all hold it together when walls come tumbling down. While we cannot rely on the media to support our every intention, it certainly helps to have other viable role models that our daughters can look to. Hannah Montana, a role model to thousands of young girls, has let us down. The New York Times article quotes Gary Marsh, the president of entertainment for the Disney channel, saying “For Miley Cyrus to be a ‘good girl’ is now a business decision for her.” Ironically, Miley’s business was built on the emotions of American girls. As a mother, I feel cheated.

On the other hand, there are women who feel that this entire thing has been blown out of proportion. Ashley of Ashley's Closet exhorts Ms. Cyrus not to apologize:

The media is bored and you have been a target ever since they caught you acting your age on Myspace. Big whoop. I'm sure Billy Ray and your mother can handle this and that child pornographer Annie Leibowitz.

For heaven's sake.

Also, media...she was not "topless". These "Topless Miley Cyrus Pics" in the headlines insinuates that Vanity Fair has got a 15 year old's boobies on display. Shame on all of you.

Annie Leibowitz wasn't photographing Hannah freaking Montana. She's the artist, Miley was the subject, she wants to see bare back, parents are present...this is a NON-ISSUE.

The pics with your dad? Only "provocative" out of context. Oh, a 15 year old snuggled up with her dad, the horror.

I'm offended on behalf of Annie, yourself and your parents and wish you hadn't apologized.

In a recent group discussion about this issue, I posed the following question: Would those of us who are offended by this picture feel the same about one showing the exact same amount of skin if Ms. Cyrus was simply wearing a backless gown? Is it about the "nudity?"

For me, my problem lies with the fact that she's underage and I find the picture intentionally sexual. It's not her naked back -- it's her tousled hair, her come-hither look, and the bed-sheet-esque cover; all of those things together combine to portray a post-coital vixen. And while I'm well aware that a 15-year-old could very well be comfortable in displaying her sexuality that way, I think putting such a picture of a minor on the cover of a national magazine is a mistake. Whether it's her mistake, her parents' mistake, Vanity Fair's mistake, or Annie Leibowitz's mistake... well, I certainly have my opinions, but they're just that: opinions.

I can't help it; I find both the cover and the subsequent hubbub deeply disturbing. I hope that some day I will sit down to write for BlogHer and won't have a broad array of stories about girls forced to grow up too quickly available to me. It seems unlikely, but I can hope.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs at Woulda Coulda Shoulda and Want Not.

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