There's a very complex, scientific diagram stuck to the fridge of my family's cabin that clears up an age-old confusion.
It includes drawings, labels and a couple of arrows that my youngest sister jokingly used to explain to my other sister the difference between Miley Cyrus and Hilary Duff. Cyrus was Hannah Montana, the picture explains, and Duff was Lizzie McGuire. It's easy to mix them up: both were blonde, pulled double duty as pop stars and TV actresses with a kiddie audience and boasted squeaky-clean reputations... or used to. While Duff went on to marry retired hockey player Mike Comrie and sort of disappear from the spotlight, Cyrus has been trying to revamp her image as more "adult."
As you've probably heard, she's ruffled more than a few feathers with this pursuit — especially in her native America. Recently at MTV's Video Music Awards, she sent a ton of crybabies running to the FCC with complaints when she performed alongside the newly popular R&B star Robin Thicke to perform his summer earworm "Blurred Lines." Her contribution was certainly eyebrow raising: she twerked up on the married Thicke, licked his neck and used a foam finger in a pretty suggestive way. But, she pointed out, it was the MTV awards, not the Grammys. They're supposed to be more risqué and rock 'n' roll than their formal counterparts.
Capitalizing on the controversy, soon after she released the music video for her single "Wrecking Ball" in which she rides a wrecking ball completely naked, save for a pair of brown boots. She also appeared on Rolling Stone's cover naked, leaning up against the side of a pool, her now infamous tongue licking her own shoulder. (Not exactly shocking, considering all the scantily clad stars — men and women, though mostly women — who have graced the cover.)
In that story, Cyrus told an interviewer that she admires the outspoken Irish singer Sinead O'Connor and in fact gleaned inspiration for her "Wrecking Ball" video from O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." O'Connor replied with an open letter advising Cyrus to quit allowing herself to be exploited by the music industry, which profits off of her sexuality. "Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent," she wrote.
Cyrus responded with a bratty, offensive tweet mocking O'Connor's mental illness, and the saga continues.
While I agree with a lot of O'Connor's points in the letter, I don't think the issue is as black and white as she makes it out to be. We can all (hopefully) agree that exploiting a young woman, barely out of her teens, by encouraging her to pose naked for your own profit is wrong. But what if O'Connor is underestimating the amount of control Cyrus has in shaping her image? What if Cyrus has made the conscious decision to shed her good little girl image in hopes of launching a new phase of her career and this is the way she's chosen to do it?
Yes, it's entirely possible those advising her stand to make money off of her new borderline XXX image, but it's also incredibly offensive to assume that this 20-year-old who has been working in show biz since she was a kid is incapable of making any decisions for herself because she's young and because she's a girl.
Justin Bieber, her peer, (and possibly new romantic partner, according to gossip rags) is struggling with the same issue of transitioning from a tween act to a more serious artist. He's not running around naked (as far as I've read), but according to both the celeb sleaze and mainstream media, he has become an entitled brat, getting in fights, driving recklessly, even recruiting body guards to carry him up the Great Wall of China. But in this case, the public is quick to call him out on the behaviour rather than blaming anyone else for it.
Maybe Cyrus is a victim of music industry exploitation, but the truth is, we don't know. While O'Connor, having been in Cyrus' position two decades ago, has a better idea of the risks for young female artists in the music industry, she doesn't really know the ins and outs of Cyrus' career either.
Arguably, Cyrus isn't setting a great example for her young fans and, perhaps, isn't doing much by way of feminist ideals, but to suggest that she is a hapless victim is more damaging to female empowerment and offensive than her twerking, nudity and misuse of construction equipment.
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