OPINION: Why America needs the conversations started by Miley Cyrus

Some have expressed concern that Miley's performance at the VMAs was inappropriate and degrading to women (photo courtesy of Mike Schmid/Flickr).
Some have expressed concern that Miley's performance at the VMAs was inappropriate and degrading to women (photo courtesy of Mike Schmid/Flickr).

Everyone loves a hot mess. Whether it’s Britney Spears shaving her head or Amanda Bynes’s newest tweet, we—including myself—love watching our favorite Hollywood starlets take a ride on the struggle bus. If it is not for the pure entertainment, it is in the hopes that someday they will get their act together; And I’m still rooting for team Lindsay.

However, amongst all of the TMZ paparazzi shots, these celebrities bring important discussions about American society to the table. Paris Hilton is not moderating a panel on Syria, but her actions bring about a question of our society's obsession with gratuitous wealth and fame. These discussions are often undermined by shallow reports of what happened instead of what it all means. Miley Cyrus is a prime example. Her actions have been highlighted in the past month, but have also started conversations all around the country.

Cyrus first gained fame in Disney’s Hannah Montana as the title character with whom many young girls became infatuated. Over the past few years, as Cyrus has departed from Disney, the now 20 year old artist has been working to create a more adult image.

“We Can’t Stop”, the first single off of her upcoming album, Bangerz, discusses partying and casual drug use, which raised many questions about Miley’s “new image.” The accompanying music video featured a scantily clad Cyrus with a short haircut, dancing teddy bears and “twerking.” It was weird but also not something so unusual for a rich 20 year old making a music video. We’ve also seen shenanigans like this before in countless other videos—i.e. Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance”—so Miley’s take wasn’t exactly original. Why can’t Miley express her body like Gaga? After all, Gaga was only 22 when her party anthem “Just Dance” was released.

Many say Cyrus is not setting a good example for young girls, and is too young herself. While it is understandable that the character of Hannah Montana is meant to be a role model for girls, parents should start teaching their children to differentiate between acting and real life. Who gets to determine what age you can be before you release a music video about twerking? Others point to the fact that she isn’t really making art, but who really defines art? It’s an age-old question.

Even more attention was brought to Cyrus when she performed “We Can’t Stop” at the MTV Video Music Awards earlier this month. Clad in a bear leotard that quickly came off to reveal nude underwear, Cyrus gyrated and grinded with fellow singer Robin Thicke. Many deemed the performance as uncomfortable, and some even called it racist for Cyrus’s depiction of twerking and African American culture. However, a large majority of the criticism was on Cyrus’s dancing and outfit, not Thicke—a 36 year old married father who was grinding with a 20 year old. It is a double standard ever so prominent in American society: a man can be sexual—and is often praised for it—but it is awful for a woman to do such a thing, and she is immediately deemed a slut. This concept is not to reiterate every gender studies class ever, but it is a reality.

What is this teaching young girls? Basically, if you show your body or have sex, you’re a slut. America is scared of sex and the human body. Our culture makes women ashamed of their bodies and perpetually creates a body hatred issue in this country. Don’t get me wrong, the MTV performance was horrendous and distasteful for many reasons other than Cyrus, but her performance is all people remember. Maybe that is what she wanted.

Now Cyrus has released a new controversial video for her second single, “Wrecking Ball”, directed by famed fashion photographer Terry Richardson. The video shows Cyrus naked—but obscured—while straddling a wrecking ball. Throughout the video she also licks a sledgehammer provocatively, which I do agree is over the top. But the nudity was neither revealing nor distasteful; it is simply a female body. She is expressing herself in a new way. Did people forget that Madonna did everything controversial already?

While Cyrus is not the perfect role model and her actions have had some negative consequences, the discussions she is provoking are important. America is opening its eyes even more to sexual expression and what it really means to be yourself. We need this kind of discourse to open our eyes to how women are really viewed.

We should focus less on Cyrus’s actions and more on society’s reactions. This is no Miley pity party—she knows what she is doing: any press is good press. Yet, our generation is all about being yourself and promoting equality for everyone. For Miley, she is just being herself.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication.   

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