Miley Cyrus

The first I heard of the controversy over 15 year old Miley Cyrus posing topless in Vanity Fair was when a colleague blogged about it.  I thought Grace's piece was well written and kinda took it for granted that most people would agree that the picture was indicative of our culture, which sexualizes our youth in order to sell products.  So I was rather surprised when later, I came across a slew of comments in blogs and online news articles where people thought that the picture was "no big deal."  Mothers of daughters wrote in to say that they found nothing wrong with the photo, that girls expose more with their daily fashions, and that those of us who thought the photo was sexually suggestive were either prudes or had sex on the brain. 

After some consideration, I put up the photo in question so that readers can decide for themselves whether it is sexually suggestive or not.  I would argue that it's misleading to focus on the quantity of skin exposed.  Of course there are fashions that show as much skin.  But the combination of the bare back and the tousled hair and what looks like a satin bed sheet all suggest a post-coital moment with what we must remember is a 15 year old girl.

Sexualizing our youth in order to sell products is nothing new.  That doesn't mean it shouldn't be controversial.  Saying that it's been done before or even that it's done all the time doesn't make it right. 

Moreover, I agree with the blogger at Gothamist, who said that the fully clothed pic of Miley with dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, was even more disturbing. (It's rare that I agree with bloggers on the metro "ist" sites as they seem to take pride in their cultural elitism.)  It leads one to wonder whether Mr. Cyrus has his daughter's or his own interests in mind.  It seems he would prefer to project the image of a cool stud with a hot chick hanging on his arm over being a middle-aged father of a teen-aged daughter.

Personally, what bothers me most is that these photos were taken by Annie Liebowitz, someone whom I think has great talent for making social statements through portrait photography.  It would be easy for me to believe that Liebowitz was making a statement here precisely about the sexualization of our youth.  In that respect it is a brilliant photo. 

The problem, however, is that the statement is made at the expense of a 15 year old girl.  If dad is not looking out for Miley.  And if the photographer is not looking out for Miley.  And we know that Vanity Fair and Disney are looking to see product.  Then who is looking out for, guiding and nurturing this young soul as she ventures toward adulthood?

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative