A Rant: Miley Cyrus, Thigh-High Boots, and the Fetishization of Youth
Oh no! Miley Cyrus looks vaguely mature in the August edition of Elle—cue the outrage!
At 16, is Miley too young to be posing “provocatively,” as she does in this feature? Riddle me this, universe: what is the proper age to don thigh-high boots and a push-up bra in a national publication? Can you imagine the uproar if Elle had photographed an older woman, say Helen Mirren or Judi Dench, in similar attire?
Our culture has fetishized youth. We worship it. Women undergo surgery and inject toxins into their faces to maintain lineless complexions. They wax their nether regions to a pre-pubescent smoothness. Youth and attractiveness are coveted and prized to an insane extent, but a young woman wearing form-fitting black clothes—you know, being youthful and sexy—is somehow crossing a line? Forgive me if I find Botox a far more insidious force than Hannah Montana’s cleavage.
Sure, these photos aren’t exactly congruent with the squeaky-clean way she’s normally packaged. But so what? Is it so shocking that, at 16, she might want to be portrayed in the media in a more adult fashion? After all, she's been working full-time for years. In many ways, she is an adult. And didn’t we all spend significant portions of our teen years trying really desperately to be viewed as grown-ups?
I'd much rather see a teen star wearing sophisticated clothes in an attempt to look sexy and mature than following that time-honored tradition of posing in lingerie for Maxim. (Hello, double standard! Where are the pictures of Justin Timberlake stripping to prove his readiness to move beyond boy bands?)
All that said, I'm troubled by the pervasive conflation of sexuality with maturity. Can't we have the "not a kid anymore" story without the requisite trying-hard-to-be-risqué photo shoot? (Sorry, Elle. It's just so predictable.) Even so, the downright hypocrisy of a society that so treasures sex appeal but condemns women for cultivating it is far more damaging than a glimpse of Miley’s decolletage ever will be.