Miley Cyrus and the Sexualization of Children


Miley Cyrus got her wish at last week’s MTV Video Music Awards. The pop sensation surpassed Beyonce’s Super Bowl appearance for most tweets per minute. The whole nation—or at least the sizeable segment who thinks this stuff is interesting, entertaining or important—tuned in to watch Cyrus’ performance.


They weren’t disappointed. She gyrated provocatively with stuffed bears. Sang provocative songs.  Wore provocative clothing. Made provocative use of a giant foam hand. Posed provocatively with a blow-dried young man. She did all the things that have made her the celebrity-de-jour. The rows of adoring young women planted in the front row by the show’s producers appeared to be in heaven. I’m sure the millions of girls and young women watching her performance on television felt the same way.


I know little about Cyrus. Only that she’s the daughter of well known country star Billy Ray Cyrus and started her entertainment career as the lead character in the Disney Channel’s television series, “Hannah Montana.”


She leveraged her Disney years into a recording contract and since 2007 has released four best-selling albums.  Today at age 20 she’s one of the most popular singers in the world.


There’s nothing wrong with that sort of path. America has always celebrated success, especially of those people who take off like a rocket and remind us all that success really can happen for people who are talented, work hard and catch a few lucky breaks.


But something happened to Cyrus along the road. The winsome, wholesome character that captured the imaginations of so many young girls in “Hannah Montana” became the strutting, preening and highly-sexualized figure of last week’s VMA awards.


This isn’t just the old, jaded story of a good girl gone bad. The fawning response of the secular culture is what worries me even more. Sociologist and national commentator Pepper Schwartz perfectly captured the prevailing cultural sentiment when she titled her recent editorial “Miley Cyrus is Sexual—Get Over It.”


No, we should not get over it. And I’m not just speaking as a pastor. I’m speaking as the father of a young woman. As someone who cares about the future of young women. And as someone invested in the direction of our country. Miley Cyrus and all she represents isn’t just a problem for us religious types. For the life of me, I can’t understand why even secularized feminists aren’t screaming bloody murder. Does anybody from any background (excepting those criminals involved in child trafficking who probably delight in Cyrus’ performance because it increases their business) think there’s anything good for young women here? The very audience Cyrus reaches is the audience most at risk today for struggles with self-esteem, self-image and a culture that views young women as little more than sex objects.


And the point the media likes to make about young women being empowered by expressing their sexuality in the ways Cyrus and others do? Who do they think they’re fooling? The national media isn’t driven by altruistic types wanting to see women set free from society’s misguided constraints into a new generation of sexual freedom. It’s driven by cold-eyed financiers who know that sex sells. Period.


The sexualization of our children—and Miley Cyrus’ appeal is due in large measure to just that—should concern all of us, whether Christian or not. It’s a sure sign of a culture that’s lost its way. Without any sense of transcendent values America today will stoop to almost anything.


Miley Cyrus isn’t the first to go down this road. She won’t be the last. But her descent into darkness holds a particular danger—not just to the church but also to the larger culture. For Cyrus, success comes from a combination of sexuality, cynicism and celebrity. Do any of us really want our daughters to believe that?


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