April 30, 2008
On Becoming a Sexual Female, via Miley Cyrus
I tend to agree* with this analysis of the photos of Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair that we’ve seen so far from Vanity Fair, that they’re not “that bad.”
*sidenote: Except that the bare skin and sultry looks are for your prom friends, not the American Celebritocrical Gaze. And typically you go to the prom at 17-18, not the age of 15. Mir Kamin makes the distinction quite well between these images and simply wearing a backless dress:
For me, my problem lies with the fact that she’s underage and I find the picture intentionally sexual. It’s not her naked back — it’s her tousled hair, her come-hither look, and the bed-sheet-esque cover; all of those things together combine to portray a post-coital vixen.
(end of side-note)
But the whole thing still troubles me for a few reasons I know, and probably some I can’t articulate yet. And I think the question of whether the images themselves are “that bad” isn’t the real issue here.
And I’ve really become disappointed in Annie Leibovitz who, back in the day, took this amazing image of Yoko Ono and John Lennon that surprised our gender expectations. She has recently become more known for replicating racist images of the recent past, and now this. And while, as I said “they’re not that bad” (isn’t is sad we have a world of sexualized teen girls to compare this image to that we can make the judgment, ‘it’s not that bad’? Ugh)
This comment on Female Impersonators is quite striking and right-on, and I think it sums up what was really giving me anxiety:
a fifteen year old girl should be beginning to discover her sexuality. She should understand how her body works and why. She should appreciate her body’s feelings and responses, but she should not be doing it in front of the world. To sell magazine covers.
That’s exactly it. In a world where women’s desirability matters more than her desire or that she desires at all, this is sad yet unsurprising. This 15 year-old girl is learning the very real and ‘truth’ of our modern culture that posing and being socially stamped as ‘sexy’ is an important (if not the important) part of women’s ‘sexuality’. That her being sexy is defined through, well, this. I’m not denying that a 15 year-old can be a sexual being. But the problem is that our culture perpetually defines sexuality and sexiness in terms of public validation of public sexual display. And hers being a sexuality-in-process…sigh. And what were you saying about ‘The Sexual Revolution’?
And Gawker’s provocative take on the photos is pretty interesting: grooming for pedophilia. I would never argue that’s what is consciously and absolutely going on, but it’s a compelling suggestion.
And it also makes me think about how our culture “grooms” women to become public sex objects, to desire the validation it provides, to justify it to themselves until it’s “no big deal.” We don’t live in a vacuum, and women (or girls) don’t one day jump out of bed and say “I think I’d like to show my tits to strangers while I’m drunk next spring break.”
I think I’m just going to leave this here for right now. Thoughts?