In high school, I knew a girl who seemed like the All-American girl next door. During freshman year, she had bobbed blonde hair and a preppy wardrobe. Plus, she was a cheerleader. By senior year, she had quit the cheerleading team and restyled herself with a brick red pixie haircut and punky clothes, including jewelry that was heavy on leather and silver spikes. I remember doing a double take — she had changed enough to be (almost) unrecognizable. I found myself wondering what happened: Was she experimenting? Was she trying to toughen up her image? Was she trying to fit in with new friends? Did she discover her true self? What did her parents think?
The questions I asked myself seem applicable to Miley Cyrus and her 180-degree image change. Although enough articles have been written about her scandalous behavior and her infamous VMA performance with Robin Thicke, not enough has been written to explain why there has been a backlash, especially from parents. After all, plenty of female celebs (including other former Disney child stars) have reinvented themselves and their images as role models. Here are the five reasons that I believe are behind the Miley backlash:
Parents Still See Miley Cyrus as Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana – Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana the character was a goofy, sassy, girl-next-door-slash-pop-star. Since Miley Cyrus was so convincing as Miley Stewart, and they both shared the same first name, it was easy to meld the two Mileys (and by extension, Hannah Montana) together. Call it the Miley Malady. Plus, widespread media exposure and tight Disney control made it even more difficult to tell where the true Miley started and ended. If Miley Cyrus hadn’t grown up most of her life in the public eye and in the Hollywood industry with a specific image, it probably wouldn’t be difficult to accept her evolution and transition into a non-adult-like Hannah Montana. Instead of wondering “What happened to Miley Cyrus?” parents might dismiss her as just another provocative artist instead of a former child star gone astray.
Parents Are Afraid Their Daughters Will Mimic Miley – Remember when Miley caused mild ruckuses after she appeared semi-nude in a 2008 Vanity Fair photo by Annie Lebovitz and when she “pole danced” at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards? Since she was still in her teens and on Hannah Montana, plenty of parents thought she behaved inappropriately. Having easy access to Google doesn’t help to avoid comparing “before” and “after” photos and coverage of Miley. When one has spent years on a wholesome Disney show, it’s also jarring to see her unabashedly embracing and displaying her sexuality, especially in her current musical performances. What if little girls who admired Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana thought growing up meant having to trade in their sparkly tutus for skintight dresses? What if they grew up too fast because they couldn’t separate the two Mileys?
Parents Are Angry at Losing a Role Model for Their Kids – Hannah Montana was a good role model. She was hardworking, talented, funny, considerate, honest, and chaste. She empowered little girls to dream big and taught them how to behave toward family, friends, and strangers. She cared more about what was on the inside than on the outside. But once the show ended and Miley Cyrus rebelled against her Disney image, little girls were left confused and bewildered, along with their parents. Being a parent is already hard enough trying to explain tough topics (school shootings, natural disasters, terrorism), so trying to explain the change of a former child star is just another burden. Plus, on some level, to acknowledge that Miley Cyrus is different means acknowledging most little girls will grow up, act out, and lose their own innocence. How can parents explain why role models may not always want to be role models?
Parents Believe Miley Has Bad Parents – When Miley was born, her original name was Destiny Hope, and she once stated in a TV interview with Barbara Walters that she thought it was her destiny to bring hope to Hollywood. In fact, before she moved to Hollywood to start filming Hannah Montana, Miley’s parents — Billy Ray and Tish — baptized her and she wore a purity ring for a period of time. Obviously, things have turned out very differently — leaving parents to believe that Miley’s parents didn’t really do enough to prevent her from growing up too soon and embracing her sexuality. By losing respect for Billy Ray and Tish’s parenting styles, parents will also transfer their dislike to Miley. While it may be judgmental to point fingers and blame her parents, it’s also a very natural and human reaction to wonder: Were they seduced by Hollywood? Did they do enough to protect her? Did they condone or condemn her wild behaviors?
Parents Believe Miley Is Trying Too Hard to Grow Up – There’s no delicate way to say this, but Miley’s super fast change may seem suspiciously contrived to push her into adulthood, or an image of a certain type of adulthood. As Miley repeatedly talks about her new image, it can feel like she’s trying too hard to jumpstart a new career by doing too much, too soon, too fast. She may claim to be the same person inside, but she’d definitely different on the outside. Miley Cyrus wants to be taken so seriously as an adult — someone independent and in control of what she says and does — that all of her efforts begin to seem like a carefully cultivated checklist (a strategy even she admits is true) instead of a natural evolution. Cursing? Check. Twerking? Check. Smoking drugs? Check. Piercing and tattooing? Check and check. Looking nothing like Hannah Montana? Check. Is Miley just trying too hard to prove herself by leaving that started her fame behind?
While it’s natural for all kids to test boundaries, rebel, and do things parents don’t approve of, chances are most of the experimentation will only be remembered by a few people…as long as kids avoid taking photos and selfies and posting them publicly on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter (to be archived and indexed by Google). But since everything Miley does is automatically published online (even if it is her decision to shun privacy), to see her change so rapidly in public is to see the manifestation of every parent’s private fear: that despite their best efforts to keep kids on? a “good” path, they can still turn out differently and end up on a “bad” path. So Miley’s growing pains are a reflection and magnification of every child’s ongoing growing pains. After all, no parent wants to watch carefree youth and innocence disappearing — whether for better or for worse.
Do you think there are other reasons behind the Miley Cyrus backlash?
- Take the Quiz: What Career Will My Child Have?
- Fill Your House With Music From Shop Parents
Image: Miley Cyrus at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards and Miley Cyrus at a 2009 charity celebration, both from Shutterstock.