Miley Cyrus is About More Than Just Sex

Once a year, there's about a month of my life dominated by the presence and the music of Miley Cyrus. Every time I go through this period, my friends receive bombardments of rage texts from me about the misogyny and judgment that has surrounded Cyrus. I decided this year, I’d use my platform on Her Campus to save my poor friends from these rants and maybe enlighten some new people.

Miley Cyrus’s first role was in the film Big Fish (2004) when she was just twelve years old. Two years after that, she was cast as Hannah Montana. Miley’s young start meant the world would watch her grow up and would be carefully watching for mistakes, as we so often do with young women in the public eye. I'm not here to say Miley Cyrus has never done anything wrong, but instead to critique how we demonize her.

The Topless Vanity Fair Photo

This photo, taken in 2009, was the first ‘misstep’ I remember from Miley Cyrus. I remember my parents being extremely disappointed that the Disney Channel star who was supposed to be a role model would do such a terrible thing. “How could she pose nude? Doesn’t she understand that she needs to set a better example for young girls?” At the time, I was ten and didn't do much thinking for myself. I allowed my parents to deem the photo inappropriate. As I revisit the photo, I’m angry about the conversations that surrounded the photo and the framing of the situation.

Looking at the photo, there is absolutely nothing innately sexual about the picture at all. Miley Cyrus’s bare back and implied toplessness is not the issue, the problem is with how the photo was viewed and sexualized. Young girls and women are constantly being framed as sexual objects because our society doesn't seem to value women for anything else. A study, conducted by Wesleyan researches, found that across 58 different magazines, 51.8 percent of advertisements depicted women as sexual objects. Even worse than that, when the advertisements appeared in men’s magazines, framing women as sexual objects occurred 76 percent of the time. With intentional objectification happening so frequently, it becomes the default and unintentional objectification is the result. Next time you find yourself critiquing a photo of a woman—especially a young woman—for being too sexual, ask if the photo is sexual or if you've made it sexual.

Growing up bombarded with fashion magazines, films, and television with depictions of the ideal female body, young girls often learn to hate their bodies. In order to take this photo, Miley Cyrus had to have mustered up a lot of courage because displaying so much of yourself is a very vulnerable thing to do. This photo could’ve been a great time for her to learn to love, embrace and accept her body but became an experience of shame. When asked about the photo Miley Cyrus said, “ 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. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.” Society loves to sexualize young girls and then immediately blames them.

Finally, as I look at the Vanity Fair photo, I must ask, “If this photo was inappropriate, why is the fifteen-year-old girl taking the heat?” (I adamantly believe this photo IS NOT sexual, but that was not the popular opinion at the time.) 'Young girls look up to her, she should not be doing this.' Young girls, yes, looked up to Miley Cyrus but we MUST remember, she was a young girl too. How often do we hear about young girls being taken advantage of, ESPECIALLY in Hollywood? I'm not an expert in Hollywood careers, but I can almost guarantee you this fifteen-year-old was not calling her own shots. Teen icons like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Zendaya, Miranda Cosgrove and many others were not people, they were products. The idea that Miley Cyrus made the choice to participate in this shoot completely on her own is absolutely laughable and even if she had, she was a child. The issue is not that Miley Cyrus is a bad role model, the issue is Miley Cyrus was a young girl who was being exploited sexually. Direct your anger at the adults in charge of this shoot, not at a vulnerable young girl.

Wrecking Ball

The reception to the Wrecking Ball music video is what I always bring up to my friends, so if you've heard this from me before, you can log off now. For those of you who don’t remember this music video, here’s a link. People were livid when this music video came out and to be frank, it’s because Miley Cyrus is a woman. In the music video, Miley is in her underwear or nude. The video has a very sexual nature, but what’s wrong with that? Miley was an adult at twenty-one, so what’s wrong with embracing her sexuality? I remember around the same time Justin Bieber posed in his underwear for Calvin Klein to absolutely no black lash. In fact, he was praised and idolized after that photo. Why are we celebratory of men’s bodies but are so upset by women’s? It also is extremely saddening that we can only view women’s bodies as objects of sex. The metaphor in this music video is not, by any stretch, hard to understand or see. Miley’s nakedness is to represent her vulnerability. Yes, she is sexual, but that’s just because society has taught women they won’t be listened to unless sex is involved. We teach them this lesson and then demonize them for acting on it. Miley’s sexuality should’ve either been celebrated or we shouldn’t have taught her that so much of her value would be placed around that.

Miley Cyrus, Wrecking Ball music video and all, can be a great role model for young women. Owning who she is and being unapologetically her is the best example I think she could set. In 2018, Miley Cyrus actually retracted her apology for the 2008 Vanity Fair photo and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She should’ve never been demonized for that or even sexualized. Miley Cyrus is an amazing woman who is so much more than her body. Instead of focusing on things like that, pay attention to things like her Happy Hippie Foundation or the work she does with animals. I love you, Miley. Thank you for being you.