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Miley Cyrus Wrecking BallBy now you have no doubt seen, or heard about, Miley Cyrus’ controversial VMA performance, her Wrecking Ball video, or Sinead O’Conner’s open letter to Miley. You may have even read Amanda Palmer’s open  letter  to  O’Conner  in response to her letter and, well you get the idea. Lots of people are weighing in on the subject.

Whether or not you are a Miley Cyrus fan, or a Sinead O’Conner fan, or whether you like or dislike Miley’s recent attention-grabbing performances, you need to be aware of the underlying issues.  Because believe it or not, they relate to you.

Cyrus presents herself as a kick-butt kind of girl. She seems to be in control of her own destiny and if she wants to kick Hannah Montana to the curb, that’s her prerogative. At first I thought Cyrus was just being provocative to sell albums  which I could kind of rationalize. But the ensuing dialogue brought up a number of points you may want to consider when it comes to your own public image.

To recap: Cyrus ignited all kinds of media coverage in response to her wildly sexy VMA performance. Then, In reference to her controversial Wrecking Ball video, Cyrus told Rolling Stone:

It’s like the Sinead O’Connor video for “Nothing Compares 2 U“, but, like, the most modern version. I wanted it to be tough but really pretty – that’s what Sinead did with her hair and everything. . . There’s something empowering about what I’m doing right now. Especially having “short hair don’t care.” I think it’s empowering for girls. Because there’s not one thing that defines what beauty is.

O’Conner, herself a provocateur, was quick to disassociate herself from Cyrus’ new video. and in response to the RS interview she offered 20 year old Cyrus this motherly advice: 

Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in the future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you.


The more mature singer went on to express concern about many Miley-isms, including the fact she seems to believe it’s in “any way ‘cool’ to appear as a naked, twerking sexpot in her videos. It is in fact the case that “you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping.”

O’Conner’s solution seems to be the same as fundamentalists around the world. Is it  the responsibility of women to hide their sexuality? Is the answer to exploitation to strip women of their sexuality or tell them to hide it?

In her defense of Cyrus, Palmer writes on her blog:

Sex sells. We all know it. Miley knows it better than anyone: swinging naked on a big metal ball simply gets you more hits than swinging on a big metal ball wearing clothes.

So, in the name of marketing, is it okay to exploit women and tell them it’s okay?  Is it exploitation if the female artist (or athlete) is in control and/or profiting? Is selling sexiness exploitation, or is that a prudish assumption? Do first amendment rights come into play at all? Can O’Conner’s reaction be considered slut-shaming? ‘ I know, there are a lot of questions here.

However here is the underlying question:  Do you – as an athlete, a singer, etc. – want to be judged on your talent or your appearance?

Do you want people to notice you for the way you look or for your abilities? And when people do notice you for your looks, is it the real you? Or a facsimile derived from images and messages you’ve  been exposed to on TV, in print, movies, music and online. You may not realize it, but these images affect your self esteem – they can make you feel bad about yourself when you have no reason to. They may make you want to present yourself in a way that is not natural.

Media marketing pressure begins in preschool and increases through middle and high school as girls gain more buying power. That’s right. You are a targeted marketing demographic. Brands want your money and they’ll do almost anything to get it. In fact, a new study claims to identify the times of the week that women are feeling the most insecure about their looks, and recommends that brands “concentrate media during prime vulnerability moments.” Wow. Remember that the next time you feel compelled to buy some make-up or weight-loss products.

On a platform that encourages girls to be “Pretty Tough” here is a (short) list of tipsr:

  1. It is okay to push limits (we encourage it) but try not to objectify yourself in an effort to garner attention.
  2. There is no one definition of beauty. Rock your unique attributes and do not measure yourself against idealistic media representations. If you try to be someone you’re not, you have already lost.
  3. Do not be afraid to show your strength or toughness (emotionally and physically).
  4. Express your individuality; bring out your best assets and trust your instincts.
  5. Never allow another person to put you in a position where you feel demeaned or uncomfortable (see #3)

With all the hoopla surrounding Cyrus, what are you going to remember about her?

October 7, 2013
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