Miley Cyrus is the latest tween-turned-teen to find herself under scrutiny for somehow tarnishing her “good girl” image by, well, growing up. Says Cyrus, “Every 18-year-old explores sexuality and experiments and tries things. For me there’s no reason to change that. You have to be true to yourself.” Cyrus isn’t just growing up - she is growing up and being honest about it. Which is a refreshing change from other child stars that have made a similar transition. Take Britney Spears for example who said in her very first interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that she wasn’t trying to be sexy. Uh-huh, sure Brit.
What’s interesting about the public perception of Cyrus is that her transition from girl to woman is met with such shock and outrage. It’s as though watching Miley Cyrus go from a blonde, innocent little girl to a sexy young woman reminds us that all of our daughters will eventually go through that same transition. And no one likes to think about his or her little girl as a sexy woman.
But why is that? And even more importantly, why, the second that a woman begins to play with, or experiment with her sexuality do we start the think of her as “bad”? While it’s true that an 18-year-old woman may no longer be a fitting role model for young girls, is that particularly surprising or wrong? And why should we shame a young woman for no longer being a role model for girls by calling her “bad” or even “controversial”? It’s as if we want to punish her for coming into womanhood.
Miley’s fan base has grown up alongside her. She is behaving like a young adult, just as they are, and being very open about it. “The ones who do look up to me as a role model…I think it’s because I’m so real. If they tell you that they haven’t tried this or haven’t experimented with that, they’re lying. And I’ll never do that because personally I can’t, because there will be some proof on the Internet.”
We don’t offer young women today any guidance on how to explore their sexuality. Instead, we tell them what to watch out for, what not to be, and what to avoid completely. But this pushes women down a deeply inauthentic and sexually disconnected path. Instead, we need to teach them how to discover what their sexuality means to them. And if sexuality is something that is primarily experienced in the body, then the best and healthiest way to explore sexuality is through the body – whether through dressing up, dance or even touch. Miley Cyrus got in a lot of trouble when she used a pole in her performance for “Party in the USA”. Ironically, pole dancing can be an excellent way for a woman to explore her sexuality. Pole dancing awakens the body and teaches women about sensuality – usually in an all-female environment. The majority of women who pole dance will say that it has increased their confidence as well as their awareness of their sense of desire in their bodies.
Women make well-informed and judicious decisions about their sexuality when they have an experience of and relationship to the feeling of desire that resides in their body, rather than just an intellectual relationship with it. If a young woman, through dance, dress-up or touch can begin to feel in her body what she likes and doesn't like, what feels good to her and what doesn't, if she can begin to relate to her sexuality, not just as being accessible to a man, but as something that is hers - to share or not share - then perhaps she will carry that out into the world, into her interactions with men and women. And if she does, than she will be better equipped to know, through her own internal direction and guidance, what she wants and doesn't want when it comes to sex. And this is a very individual decision. If we want to teach women to make healthy decisions for themselves and to be sexually empowered then we must give them permission to freely explore their desires.
Miley Cyrus is doing what every young woman does when she starts to discover her sexuality and its power: she is playing with it, experimenting, trying things on. And she is trying to stay true to herself. The majority of the media’s response to this behavior has been, “Should Miley be sexy?”
Why the hell not?
It would be so wonderful if instead of being upset and threatened by her newfound sexiness, the public could recognize the beauty that is unfolding before them, appreciate the honesty with which she is exploring her sexuality and applaud her for becoming a woman. After all, that’s exactly what we would do for a young man. Take for example Taylor Lautner, from the popular Twilight movies. At 19 years old, he is promoted as a sexy young stud and admired for his constant shirtless appearances. And yet the young women who scream for him to remove his shirt, who show their sexual desire for him, who put on thigh high boots to get his attention- the ones who ultimately put him in the spotlight by being fans - are considered “bad” somehow. They are going through the same thing as Miley. They are figuring out what they want and expressing the changes in their minds and their bodies. But the difference is the minute a woman puts her sexuality on display, everyone starts to ask where she went wrong. And when a man does it, he gets a handshake and a pat on the back. Nobody is asking whether or not Taylor Lautner should be sexy or whether or not he is a bad boy for doing so. So why is Miley Cyrus in so much trouble?