Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus & the Politics of Puberty

Tue, April 29, 2008


JoanneWell, a ‘tween firestorm has erupted and her name is Hannah Montana.

I’m not talking about the show or the concert or the 3-D movie.

I probably don’t have to tell you what I’m talking about — the Vanity Fair photo shoot that has families abuzz. As part of an article on the ‘tween phenom, Annie Leibovitz took this photo of Miley Cyrus, the 15-year-old who portrays Hannah Montana in the Disney Channel show of the same name.

There are numerous answers to the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

More pointedly, what’s wrong with the adults who allowed this photo to happen. Acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz says she and Miley agreed that the shot was “artistic.”

I’m no prude, but I certainly don’t find a lot redeeming about a shot of a minor girl with no clothes on, a satin sheet clutched to her naked chest, with tousled hair and come-hither bedroom eyes.

I know some say it was fair game, especially in light of some semi-provocative photos Miley herself has posted on her Facebook page. Others say there’s no difference between the now-infamous shot and a photo of Miley in her Academy Awards dress, which also showed a little back.

It’s not about the bare back.

As a mother of an eight-year-old girl (and one who adores Hannah Montana), the question is this — why is there yet another young girl being exploited in a sexual manner for profit? There is no question that the photo is about her budding sexuality and I understand that at 15, she’s no baby any more.

But in a world of Britney’s and Lindsay’s and all the other Hollywood bad girls, do we really need a major magazine, a world-renowned photographer and a young girl’s parents giving her the signal that it’s OK to take off her clothes and pose for a sexy photo? This is about judgment and a lot of it was bad.

I love art. And I want my daughter to know that the human body is a beautiful thing. But there’s a line between a beautiful, artsy shot of a woman who has exercised her adult judgment in deciding to have such a photo taken and a group of adults encouraging a a girl — yes, she’s still a girl — to pose for what is essentially an adult photograph.

Would we be having this conversation if she was 17? Probably not. What if she was 12? Different story. Miley’s age is the important factor to whether this was a good idea or whether it was taking advantage of a girl who’s own judgment is still maturing. One thing is for sure — Miley learned a lesson the hard way about who’s looking out for her best interests.

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10 Responses to “Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus & the Politics of Puberty”

  1. Julie Pippert Says:

    To me, in this, there is a definite and clear line between provocative (a backbaring dress) and suggestive.

    Naked, wrapped in a sheet is saying one thing, clearly: I just had sex.

    Is that the REAL image she wants to convey?

    It’s not artistic, it’s exploitative.

    That’s what I said in my blog post about this, too. :0)

  2. Karoli Says:

    I’m not sure I’d go as far as Julie with regard to the message of the photo. It’s technically beautiful, posted and photoshopped.

    But the power of photography is to capture a person at a moment in time that depicts who they really are.

    This photograph does not tell us who she is. It doesn’t say she’s fun-loving, talented, cute, and outgoing. It oozes mysterious allure that doesn’t look right on a 15-year old.

    My 14-year old daughter shrugged it off with a “how stupid of her to post that way” and told me that none of her friends pay attention to that stuff and by the way, what the heck is “Vanity Fair” and why would she possibly care what Miley Cyrus does in a sheet?

    I had to laugh, because it’s her typical style. She can stay glued to debates and news, rail about starving people and still ask the question “Who in the heck is Miley Cyrus?” (truth be told, she knows Daddy better because of his Dancing with the Stars appearance, which is her absolute addiction).

    The objectification of young teenage girls bothers me deeply. When moms are letting 8-year olds get bikini waxes and stupid books are being published called “My Beautiful Mommy” telling kids why mommy has bruises after her plastic surgery, yadayada, it’s way too much.

    I admire Annie Leibowitz, but she missed the mark with Miley.

  3. Karoli Says:

    Hmmm, for some reason the word “pose” was typed as “post”. Please substitute “pose” wherever you see post. Too much twittering, I suppose.

  4. Amy@UWM Says:

    Amen, sister. Karoli makes a great point. Annie Leibovitz is best known for her brilliant photography that bring out the true persona of a person through unique settings, costumes, etc. The crazy photo of Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub of white milk (or was it paint?) or the photo of Bill Gates pensive at his home computer comes to mind. Even the nude photo of a pregnant Demi Moore made a statement of how she was now not just a beautiful starlet, but a beautiful mother. This photo seems like a cop out — it does nothing to bring out the true Miley.

  5. Blog Antagonist Says:

    The almost nudity doesn’t bother me as much as the message that is being conveyed by the composition of the photo, which is entirely unsuitable for a girl that age.

    As other commenters have said, it’s exploitive and objectifies a a young girl as a sexual being.

    But frankly, the picture of her from the same photo shoot, in which she is shown in a provocative pose with her Dad skeeves me out a lot more.

    And we wonder how we end up with human wreckage like Britney Spears littering the media.

  6. Sornie Says:

    Ten years ago, a photo such as this may have been much more controversial. Or would it have been? I think that America has actually become more conservative when photos that could be construed as sexual in nature are concerned. If it had been topless with strategically placed hands, it would be another matter. This is just a carefully staged step in Miley’s career progression. She’ll lose a few of the younger fans but grab many more older ones and come closer to breaking free of the DIsney image,

  7. Kelly Says:

    As a mother of 6-year-old little girl who thinks Miley is a goddess, I was very disappointed in myself for letting her get so obsessed. I should have known that there are no good role models on TV, even on Disney. How ignorant am I? The world of entertainment has obviously completely lost touch with the rest of America. It always has been I guess (can we say Brooke Shields posing topless when she was 13?). It’s just sometimes easier to believe after you’ve seen an interview with someone famous and her famous father that they are normal and wholesome. It’s definitely easier than being suspicious of all of these people and recognizing that the whole system is corrupt.

  8. brad hart Says:

    The real question is why so many people think nudity sexuality go hand in hand. Miley was in fact wearing a backless strapless bra in the shot didn’t pull Janet Jackson and aside from the garish lighting looks like she has a healthy body.

    The more people scream about what she shows rather than what good can be pushed out of this photo, the more you support the radical muslim view that women should be covered head to toe in shapeless clothes because any suggestion of skin or or curves turns men into wanton rapists and women deserve what they get.

    Furthermore it looks like she eats and you can point out to all your daughters look this is what miley looks like without a shirt, she eats right, gets some exercise, and doesn’t look like some emaciated mummy.

  9. TEOM Says:

    There is more than a hint of the Madonna/whore in all of this…

  10. susan Says:

    Didn’t we all see this coming? I’ve been saying for months (seems like years) that it’s only a matter of time before Miley joins all the other confused girl/women/celebrities who choose to pursue the spotlight and media attention by becoming increasingly provocative.

    Many counter with “Her father is with her all the time…” So what? He’s invested in making the whole “Hannah Montana” franchise profit as well.

    I know I sound cynical, but come on… you knew this was going to happen. You know what makes me craziest? Disney’s statement saying that Vanity Fair was exploiting a young girl — ARE YOU KIDDING? What have they been doing to all these kid stars for so many years?!

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