Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball: Wrecking Body Image?

Let me begin by saying that my knowledge of Miley Cyrus and her music is extremely limited. I probably know more about Black Sabbath than I do about Miley Cyrus (and some would say this is no bad thing!). What I do know about her is that when I was a nanny for two children, one of them was nuts on Hannah Montana, the show Miley Cyrus used to star in.  To the extent that I would sometimes catch her watching episodes in secret (they had limited TV time as one of the frameworks from the education they received at a local Rudolph Steiner School.)

I have to be honest and say I’d be a little freaked out if my charges obsession with Hannah Montana had transferred to the new looking Miley Cyrus. In fact I think I’d probably place an outright ban. Miley Cyrus was probably 16 years old at the time my 9 year old was watching the Hannah Montana show, so whilst they didn’t “grow up together” (in that their ages were far apart), for that generation of 9 year old girls, Hannah Montana was a role model. I suspect that Miley Cyrus continues to be one now.

You may be aware of the very public exchange between Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor. Miley had made a comment in Rolling Stone magazine, stating that Sinead was her inspiration for the wrecking ball video (from her Nothing Compares to You hit in the 80’s). Sinead responded to Miley, publicly on her website by telling Miley to stop “pimping” herself to the music industry. Miley responded by making reference to the fact the Sinead has suffered with mental health illness in the past. That’s the story in a nut shell.

Whether or not Sinead was right in her appeal, what I’m considering is what is the impact of these sorts of images to young people. By these sort of images I’m referring to Miley Cyrus swinging naked on a ball in her latest music video. I appreciate Miley Cyrus isn’t the first person to get her kit off for publicity (though she may be the first to lick a sledgehammer) and that she want’s to be interesting and controversial and she will of course not be the last young lady to shed her attire in the hope that she might make some money from it. But the question is what impact does this kind of imagery really have on young people?

Perhaps for young ladies, it tells them to be comfortable in their bodies, to enjoy their sexuality, to be confident in being seductive. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Though I have to say throughout my teens and until the age of about 23 years old, (and quite possibly beyond that) I was not comfortable in my body. I had these new boob things to deal with that had arrived and refused to leave like unwelcome visitors. The were other unwanted arrivals too, alluding to the fact that I was now a “woman” a grown up sexual being, capable of making babies and with that, grown up decisions it would seem. It was a time of my life that felt clunky, I felt unattractive and the attention I did get, made me uncomfortable and uncertain of myself. You’d have never seen me swinging naked on a wrecking ball because of the curves in the wrong areas and the acne that was on my face and back. I’m not saying that feeling ugly and having low self esteem is a better option, but seeing Miley Cyrus swinging on a giant ball and licking a sledge hammer at that time, wouldn’t have helped either. It would probably have made me feel even more freakish as I wondered why I didn’t look like that or have her confidence.

I’d have also not done it because I would have felt that it was wrong. It might be a bit of a double standard but I’d be comfortable lounging around in a bikini on holiday because the context seems ok. The intention is different. I’m doing that for a tan and some vitamin D. Not to advertise myself or the rest of the female population.

If I was still nannying for my Hannah Montana fan, she’d be 13 year old by now. She could well be a Miley Cyrus fan too. It would be unfortunate if she was as uncomfortable in her skin as I had been, but if she was enjoying her sexuality, being confident in being seductive or even on the road to those paths, I’d want to lock her in a nunnery until she turned 26. There she could learn to crochet, read and cook. I’m not cool with the idea of 13 year old girls learning to be sexy. Or 14, or 15 or 16 year olds come to think of it. They should be thinking about their GCSEs, not their thighs.

How about the poor boys in all of this, what do they learn? Maybe they learn that women have precious bodies that they should be respectful of. That sexual relationships take time…or maybe not.

My guess is that they learn “real life” girls don’t fit the same mould as the airbrushed beauties they see on the TV screens and that could be a little disappointing to them. Perhaps they are irritated or confused when real life young ladies don’t want to get their kit of as quickly as the girls in the music videos, or kind of bored by not having to work all that hard at a relationship first, if they do.

We keep hearing people say “young people grow up so fast these days!” because they literally do. There is an entire generation of young ladies who will start menstruating 1-4 years earlier that what used to be the norm. Perhaps this isn’t just because of something in the water, but an ever growing  ramming-it-down-the-throats of children from a very early age, that they are sexual creatures who should be aware of sex. Puberty is starting from aged 9 years upwards, it used to be twelve!

What are we doing?! Porn used to be hidden on late night TV, in magazines and on the top shelf of the newsagents. Now it’s on the music channel. If you stick Christina Aguilera on the X Factor, it’s on prime time TV, and your children are watching it!

We could just say that is a form of evolution, that’s the way it is. The problem is whilst young people’s bodies are maturing more quickly, their brain are not. They are not psychologically equipped to deal with this accelerated puberty. That’s not about sex education, it’s about the development of their minds.

Is Miley Cyrus the catalyst to all this? No, of course not. But she is just another example of it. Were we all damaged by Madonna’s nudie pics in the 80’s. Probably not that much, but they were probably a little more difficult to get hold of. They were not in every corner of the media and if they were, the media had less corners and was less available to everyone.

My concern is that young people are encouraged to share their intimacies at a time when they haven’t yet developed their identities. When I worked in school there was a worksheet that we used to use as part of the child protection strategy. It talked about private areas of the body. It was the bits that you didn’t show to other people (unless you’ve hurt yourself for example), the bits you wouldn’t let people touch. But if the role models of the young do not abide by the “keep your private bits private” rules, how can we expect young people to do so?

By Gemma Bailey

Gemma Bailey is the director of NLP4Kids, a children’s therapy service that provides teen therapy and child counselling using NLP, a proactive alternative to conventional child psychology. If you are looking for a child counsellor to help your child overcome stress, depression or anxiety related problems or if you wish to book a workshop to help your child improve their mental health call 0203 6677294 or Gemma is based in Hertfordshire and works with clients in and around Hemel Hempstead, St Albans, Watford, Potters Bar, Berkhamsted, North London and Hertfordshire.

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