Miley Cyrus has undeniably been one of the most scrutinized teen idols of all time. From shock-inducing headlines, to popularizing the word “twerking,” the Hannah Montana star so many Millennials have grown up with swapped her wholesome blonde-wigged image for a bolder persona and a few printed leotards. Her many stunts (most notably her 2013 VMA performance with Robin Thicke and various incidents on her current “Bangerz” tour) have stunned the nation. With this new artistry came immense criticism. People from all around the globe started to discuss the measurements of skin exposed and called Cyrus almost every variation of the word “slut.”
I remember in sixth grade talking to a group of girls in my class about buying our first bras. One girl (who was the alleged boy expert) said she exclusively bought push-up bras in order to make herself look more “sexy” and appealing. As young girls, it becomes taught to us, sometimes even without notice, that sex is synonymous with beauty, character, and power.
Miley is a pawn in the game of sexualization instructed by society. She is in her twenties doing what so many other women do for acceptance—except with a far bigger spotlight. We cannot blame her or call her names. As a self-proclaimed feminist herself, Miley, is part of a vicious cycle of objectifying and praising women on the basis of vanity and sex. Should this be the case? No! But by penalizing Miley you have to then account for every other woman who has ever dressed in “skimpy” clothing for fun or thought that sex was equivalent to beauty.
As Gloria Steinem once said, when asked about Cyrus’ antics:
“I wish we didn’t have to be nude to be noticed … But given the game as it exists, women make decisions. For instance, the Miss America contest is in all of its states … the single greatest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. If a contest based only on appearance was the single greatest source of scholarship money for men, we would be saying, ‘This is why China wins.’ You know? It’s ridiculous. But that’s the way the culture is. I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists.”
We cannot blame Miley for the game that is seen all over the globe and the immense pressure put upon women to act and look a certain way. To all those parents who fear her exposed skin will wipe off on their daughter, the game is far bigger than just Miley and won’t go away from simply making one individual “cover up.” It is near impossible to separate Miley from the culture around her.
We cannot peg everything on Miley as an individual as her actions are correlated with many dynamics, deeply rooted beyond just what she wears or what she does with her tongue. Yet we are constantly erotizing her and critiquing her for her inappropriate behavior. We need to give Miley a break and realize that she is just one of the many women and girls who are subject to the pressures and shaming of sexualization that exists in a capitalist society.
Instead of trying to censor Miley Cyrus and the hundreds of other women in the industry who are subject to “slut shamming,” we should try and understand why we tend to shift blame onto stars instead of looking at the broader enforcing structures that seem to make sex seem equivalent to success inside and outside of Hollywood.
Cover image courtesy of Beamly.