If you're like me, your mouth might have hit the floor or maybe your brow is still bent out of shape after taking in this image of a scantily clad Miley Cyrus, backstage during an appearance at an awards show. She is the latest in a line of female child performers who, in order to shed their nice girl image, start showing off their goodies like meat in a market. In response to the criticism, Cyrus has said, 'I work really hard to be fit and to know I can wear whatever makes me feel most comfortable, and I feel most comfortable dressing with a little less. And that's kind of how I've always been, it's just now I'm able to do that a little more freely,"
Since when did being comfortable with your body translate to showing it off in mini skirts, thigh highs and bustiers? Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Jessica Biel and the recently retired, Amanda Bynes all took their turns on the covers of various magazines wearing their tarted-up best and except for a bit a buzz, the tactic rewarded them with precious little added success. So why risk alienating a predominately female (and notoriously fickle) tween fan base with a sexed up look?
What most of these transitioning child stars don't realize is that this method will likely fail. Hollywood is littered with kids who, for one reason or another, could not get work past puberty. For every success (Jodie Foster), there are numerous, and in some cases, tragic failures (Corey Haim, Gary Coleman, Dana Plato). What makes Miley's approach so sad is that she's convinced that scintillation is the way to stave off obscurity. Somehow becoming a woman means owning one's sexuality (how do you not own what's already yours?) and relinquishing one's inhibitions (doing everything because you can isn't reasonable, it's stupid.) She has bought into the idea that self-exploitation is a higher form of feminism and empowerment when in actuality, it's gross objectification in disguise.
Like many child performers before her, Cyrus wants the adulation, but not the responsibility; she doesn't want to be beholden to her fans and have to think about what kind of a problem her example creates. She wants supporters to buy her CDs and the products she endorses, watch her show, see her movies, but when she punches out at the end of the day, so should her devotees desire to emulate her. Perfectly understandable thought, but wishful thinking nonetheless. Success comes from being great at what you do, but fame and celebrity come from people wanting to be like you, lose that and you lose your bread and butter.
I do feel for a lot of these talented children. Many love what they do and want to continue working into adulthood, but so much of it is outside of their hands. Charisma is a very important (and highly unpredictable) part of the equation. Being endearingly cute and having a smart catchphrase means nothing to the over-18 set, and neither does playing like a grown up in mommy's clothes. A lot of the new generation stars grew up during the height of Madonna's fame and have taken a page from her envelope pushing book, but that's the problem. They're taking from her book when they should be writing their own. Madonna's attention grabbing, partly relied on publicity stunts and ego trips, but at the core of it was a woman who knew that in order to stay relevant she needed to innovate and evolve. That's why she's selling out arenas over twenty years later.
If Miley and her cohorts want a career span longer than yardstick, they have to try channeling their inner, not outer, Madonna because let's be honest, we've seen it all before.