Miley Cyrus greeted us from her bathtub this morning, standing naked with one arm behind her towel-wrapped head and smiling insouciantly beneath her bubble bath beard. A bubbly fig leaf covered her most feminine parts.
The image is one in a series of nude and semi-nude Polaroids of Cyrus featured in the February issue of V magazine and taken by her friend, Cheyne Thomas, during her Bangerz tour.
There are grainy, sun-drenched photos of Cyrus hanging out naked by her pool, blowing a dandelion or spraying herself with a hose. Others show her eating an apple or chatting on the phone in black lingerie, her bra pulled down to reveal one or both of her rosy nipples. She makes weird faces, wears a red wig, sits naked on a messy pile of books, sticks out her contortionist’s tongue.
Splashed all over the web with “full-frontal” and “NSFW” headlines, the photos prompted plenty of hand-wringing and howls of feminist horror: there’s Miley Cyrus exploiting herself as a sex object again, corrupting young female fans with her nudity and lewd gestures!
There were Naked Miley Cyrus celebrants too, commenting on her sexy body, many presumably with tongues dangling from their mouths like the pop star’s.
It matters little that we’ve seen it all from Cyrus before, from her Latex-clad twerking performance at the VMAs to Terry Richardson’s photos of her diddling herself in a red leotard. Because while she flaunts her body again and again, drumming into our heads that she’s content being eye-candy, we continue to project our conflicted feelings about it onto her.
But she just doesn’t care—this is a young woman enjoying being naked in front of a camera, likely being told she looks great (which she does), and playing up to her youthful, irreverent vanity.
It’s understandable that some of us feel uneasy when we see Cyrus straddling a wrecking ball. We’re struggling to reconcile our associations of her as the pre-teen star of Disney’s Hannah Montana with the exhibitionist she’s become today. But it’s foolish of us to expect her to be as anguished about her body as we are.
Cyrus’s V magazine Polaroids are not about an exploitative music industry pushing her to be sexy. Nor must these playful, personalized images of her reflect a larger issue about a culture that sexualizes young women.
Cyrus is simply posing for a friend to show us her (bland) interpretation “artful sexuality,” perhaps inspired by Ryan McGinley or any number of photographers who have been selling this aesthetic for years. (Cyrus tells Marie Claire in their February issue that she has no qualms spending money on “Good art, [like] the Ryan McGinley I just bought at the amfAR auction.”)
Later in the interview, she says—pointedly—that she has no patience for “red-carpet paparazzi.”
“This guy interviewing me was like, ‘So what do you think about your pose for Viva Glam—it's so provocative…do you think you have to sell yourself in that way or people won't care?’ I’m like, ‘How are you taking something that’s such a good thing and turning it into such a dumb story?’”
And so, posing nude in the bathtub, bubbles barely blurring her vagina, Miley Cyrus is again having fun on her own terms. All the anguished blah directed at her says more about our panic over youthful female sexuality than it says about her. Cyrus has shown she’s all grown up. It’s time we grew up too.