I almost feel like I’m beating a dead horse whenever I talk about the performance by Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s. When most people talk about that performance, they omit that Robin Thicke was also a part of it, and they talk about how bad of a role model Miley Cyrus is for the young girls of America.
It’s true that Miley used to be America’s sweetheart; she quickly rose to fame on Disney Channel’s hit show Hannah Montana, along with tours as her alter ego and even a movie that reached number one at the box office when released.
She wasn’t always a “bad” girl. Hannah Montana’s song “Nobody’s Perfect” used to be my anthem when I was having a bad day or feeling down about myself, and her show was just another typical sitcom for adolescents.
But in just a few short years, things began to change. Her image shifted from sweet Disney girl, to lead in a Nicholas Sparks’ film adaption, to then a girl who “Can’t Be Tamed”. After that came “We Can’t Stop”, grinding on Robin Thicke, and every other detail of her life documented on YouTube and in the tabloids.
So now she’s a bad role model, right? I do agree that her “We Can’t Stop” video is extremely inappropriate, mostly for her exploitation of “ratchet” culture, and because she was quoted saying she wanted her songs to sound “black”. As a woman of color, I find this offensive, because what exactly does “black” sound like? But aside from her ignorance, for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I was so frustrated that everyone was labeling her a “bad role model.” She danced suggestively on a married man, but no one was saying anything about the man, so the feminist in me wasn’t too upset about her actions. And if everyone is right and Miley Cyrus is a bad role model for young girls, who out there is saying that Robin Thicke is a bad one for young men? Anyone?
Then I realized I was mad because why is she even in the running for being a role model?
Celebrities don’t ask to be anyone’s role model. You may say, well, they put themselves in the public eye. So what? They sing, they dance, they act, which is basically putting on a facade for a living. So why we choosing these women for their daughters and ourselves to look up to?
And this isn’t just happening to Miley Cyrus. After Michelle Obama cited Beyoncé as a role model, one mom wrote to her outraged. In the letter, she wrote that Beyoncé “wears sheer bodysuits and high heels, singing about making money and being independent”. Her main problem with this is that type of outfit is the kind that young girls and women who are sold for sex all over the world wear those types of outfits. Because, you know, all girls that dress like that just end up selling their bodies for sex.
What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a creative case of slut-shaming. Beyoncé owns her body, owns her sexuality, and owns her performances, but all this mom can reduce that to is young girls who will see that as a chance to put themselves on the street.
I am a huge supporter of sex workers; if a woman, or man, wants to do that work because they want to, then I cannot and will not ever be against it. I hope one day that it becomes safer and thatthere are laws to protect sex workers from all the risks that come along with that work. And yes, forced prostitution is a huge problem in our country and around the world, but Beyoncé dancing on stage is not the cause of it. We can place that blame where it belongs, in the hands of people that force others into that line of work, and the johns that prowl the streets keeping the supply in demand.
There are also problems with looking up to “good girl” celebrities. Taylor Swift is often said to be a wonderful role model for young girls. It’s great that she writes her own songs, and I really couldn’t care less how many boyfriends she has had; she’s young, she should be able to date. But when you get into writing about how a girl that stole your boy is “better known for the things that she does on the mattress”, then I have a problem.
So no one really wins here, do they? We have the good girls, the ones who slut-shame, or we have the bad ones, the ones who show off their body or dance with foam fingers.
How about this: stop labeling celebrities as role models. Period. Our daughters need to look up to women who are empowered, and REAL. Not airbrushed or photoshopped or always looking picture perfect, because that is not life.
If your daughter wants to be a singer, an actress, whatever, there is nothing wrong with her looking up to a certain figure. But there are careers outside of entertainment; ones that are not only easier to aspire to, but also valuable to society. Ask a young girl who she looks up to. How many young girls are going to answer with Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, or even ones from the past like Amelia Earhardt, are role models? Not enough.
So tell your daughters to turn off the television and get off Facebook for just ten minutes. Watch a TED talk. Or open a damn history book.
Written by Laila Corbeau