The Problem with Role Models (and Miley Cyrus)

29 Aug

We’ve all heard the message: Girls need role models. ASAP.

Enter Hannah Montana and her fresh-faced Disney counterparts. They’re predominately white, blue-eyed, skinny, and conventionally attractive. To top it all off, they’re pushing seventeen, but have thirteen year old mentalities when it comes to boys and real-world problems.

Because that’s what every mother wants their daughter to grow up believing — that in order to be like the “role models” they see on tv, they will need to be white, attractive, and perpetually thirteen.

It’s not just Disney displaying this image. If we look globally —

Here are the women of Girls’ Generation. They’re from the k-pop scene that have made waves in Japan and even the US (their album charted #126 on the top 200 billboard).

Most of these Girls were born in 1989. The youngest in 1991.

They look thirteen, minus the heels. That isn’t a coincidence. They are marketed that way. They could just as easily be dressed up like this.


And suddenly they’re the Pussycat Dolls.

So why are these twenty-somethings marketed as if they are sixteen year olds pretending to be thirteen?

Because their brand depends on a “good girl” image, one that makes bank by its members being attractive, talented and fresh-faced. Otherwise known as looking innocent, a must-have if you’re selling role models to parents of younger girls.

Parents want their girls to say, “I want to be (Hannah Montana/Tiffany from GG/other role model here) this Halloween!” What parents don’t want to hear is, “I want to be a Pussycat Doll.”

We don’t want our girls acting like women, so our women have to act like girls.

But we want our boys to act like men and our men to act like men. Men are men. Women are girls. It’s frustrating. Which brings us to our favorite thirteen year old in a twenty-something body —

I don’t blame Taylor Swift for catering to a younger audience. I don’t blame her for media’s obsession with boys and more boys. It’s that obsession that birthed the Taylor we know today. She’s a product of what society deems acceptable: women as girls that like boys (*cough* men *cough*).

But that doesn’t mean that her song “22” sounds like a twenty-two year old’s life. It sounds like a fourteen year old’s image of what being twenty-two means.

Yes, there are still breakfasts at midnight (because you’re already trashed by 11:45 and craving IHOP).

Yes, tonight’s the night we forget about the deadlines (loan payments, car payments, projects at work that can cost us our livelihood).

Yes, it’s miserable and maybe, somewhat, magical? Maybe? (Some twenty-two year olds are moms, some take care of their sick parents or grandparents, and some are skating by on minimum wage — even if they are middle-class).

There’s really just not a lot of time to dress up like hipsters and dance around to a song about a club disguised as a song about a sleepover.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22.”

Jamie Lynn Spears, are you?

Songs like “22” and “good girl” idol T-Swift carve out the feminine place in the limelight. It’s a very dark place that won’t shed light on sexuality and other things on growing girls’ minds — but will remind them to think about boys, boys, and why they’re not already dating boys.

Twenty-two year old idols act eighteen, at best. Eighteen year olds act sixteen. Sixteen year olds act thirteen. And, here, twenty-two can also be thirteen. Either way, the scale points down.

This is an extremely damaging trend that doesn’t allow girls to understand what it is like to be women.  We go on and on about what it is like for boys to turn into men. It’s a power struggle that involves conquering other boys in physical/intellectual strength and/or conquering girls sexually.

But girls only become women when they’re too old to be role models for the youngest generation. They’re stuck at thirteen until then, unless they somehow manage to break that mold and become eighteen year olds (just old enough to be legal) in twenty and thirty-something bodies.

This happens when media catches on to the fact that these “girls” have adult bodies and, thus, can be scrutinized like other adult women based on their sex appeal.

The twenty-somethings who are allowed to act eighteen must (a) allude to sex  (b) be classy, not trashy  and  (c) be ready to ditch their role model status for a near-nude photo shoot at any moment.

Remember when this happened?

Suddenly Lea Michele went from high school sophomore on Glee to a high school senior for this shoot. (Fun fact: Lea was born in 1986!) And the media went abuzz with slut shaming and publicly stripped Lea of any role model status that Rachel Berry had.

The joke was on them. Lea Michele clearly didn’t want  the goody-goody title thrust upon her. If anyone still thinks Glee is a good show to find role models on, they’re seriously not paying attention.

So why is it okay for Selena Gomez to look sexy? Glee’s high school at least has sex. Wizards of Waverly Place’s didn’t. Why can she sing “Come and Get It” while bestie Taylor is stuck in middle school?

Because Selena merely alludes to sex with her peek-a-boo skin and PG lyrics. She doesn’t say, “I’m up all night to get some,” but she sure wants someone to come and get it.

And most importantly, her sexiness is for the audience’s pleasure. It is not a statement of her independence. It is not a joke. As long as men in their forties can lust after her, and her attire is considered fashion, not trash, it is a-okay.

It’s all about skirting that precious line between classy and trashy; sexy and slutty. It doesn’t matter that Selena appropriates and sexualizes the bindi when she performs Come and Get It. Pssh, we’re post-racial, remember? What even is cultural appropriation?

All we care about is whether she landed on the right or wrong side of that sexy line.

Beyoncé often skirts that line. She was criticized for her (lack of) attire while performing at the Super Bowl, but the general consensus is that she played it close enough to sexy instead of slutty. She’s still considered one of the classiest female performers out there.

When child stars leave their high school characters behind, we expect them to become ladies like Queen B. And that means to be sexy in a classy way. Women artists aren’t worth their salt if they aren’t able to be sexualized.

But being sexualized doesn’t mean that these stars can have the audacity to strip, gyrate on stage, and (oh, the truly nasty part) enjoy it.

When women are props, they strip and gyrate for the performing artist and audience’s pleasure. When women are the performing artists, they must live up to the impossibly high standard thrust upon them — be a lady first, a person second.

Even if men never have to act like gentlemen to be performing artists. Boys don’t need role models. Boys need idols. Boys need father figures. Boys need success stories.

Girls are the ones who need role models, otherwise they might grow up into fully-fledged people who do awful things like have sex and opinions. 

When traditionalists talk about role models, they mean “good” girls like on the Disney channel who only talk about school, boys, and pranks. Feminists mean “strong” women with class like Michelle Obama and Beyoncé. Both opinions leave a lot to be desired.

Why do girls need role models so badly that celebrities must be punished? Why do their choices affect our daughters?

Because we expect our daughters to grow up to be ________________.









Anything BUT strippers, scantily clad teenagers, or sexologists.

Pick your poison.

When we say that girls need role models, what we are really saying is that we want to police how girls look and act. We are saying that our daughters cannot grow up believing that they are sexual beings capable of weakness, mistakes, and the capacity to be more than sexual objects.

For reference, sexual objects look like this.

Sexual beings look like this.

Both women shown sexualized (with the man who perpetuates rape in this summer’s #1 hit) are wearing nude underwear and not much else. One is accepted, the other is not.

Women being used sexually by men is normal. Women being overtly sexual? Nope, nada, no. Cut to commercials, please.

Miley’s performance was over the top. It was unusual. It was of all things, a spectacle. But it was not degrading for the reasons you think. Being sexual does not debase a woman. Being ridiculous at the same time does not justify gender-based ridicule.

Being sexual with a fully-clothed older male artist? Who sings about “blurred lines” and “good girls” who he knows “want it”? Without their voices ever being heard?

The awful, racial implications of black women with “the big butt” being used as literal props? “The big butt” being sexually used on stage? By the white woman who appropriates and stereotypes one facet of black culture? And makes $$$ because of it?

That’s downright degrading.

But only a small group of people are talking about that. The media is fixated on Miley’s butt, tongue, and foam finger.

Miley stepped outside of society’s little black box that keeps women in line. And she gave us the finger while she did it.

It was uncomfortable. Not just because of how awkward and choreographed it seemed, but also because we are simply not used to seeing women so out of control.

I have seen multiple comments online asking where her manager was during all of this. And blaming Daddy Issues on her behavior. Because women need to be managed. Women need to have deep-rooted issues with men to behave so unabashedly sexual.

They are saying these things because Miley Cyrus was and continues to be an idol. For female performers, this also means that they are role models, first and foremost. It’s an empty title thrust upon them with strict rules that must be followed or else we bring out the guillotine.

There’s no doubt that there are many girls who aren’t allowed to fangirl over Miley since her Disney departure. She sings about drinking and drugs! She cut her hair!

And most importantly, role models don’t do THIS on television.

But people do.

Miley was a person before she ever donned Hannah Montana’s blonde wig and stepped into the harsh light of what we call media. And she will still be a person long after her eleven year old fans have eleven year olds of their own.

So the next time someone brings up the term “role model,” do society a favor and kindly point them toward Miley’s foam finger.

5 Responses to “The Problem with Role Models (and Miley Cyrus)”

  1. Brooke September 4, 2013 at 10:45 pm #


    I just wanted to say that, unfortunately for my obligations, when I see one of your titles I feel intrigued and obligated to read! Thank you for making me think and question things around me.

    Also, the picture that I think should be the Pussycat Dolls isn’t showing up. Maybe that’s just my computer, but check it. 🙂

    Keep up the writing!

    • Tiffany September 5, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

      Thanks for the comment and, as always, for reading! 🙂

      I think I fixed the glitch with the Pussycat Dolls picture — thanks for pointing it out.

  2. j1moris September 9, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    Women and girls are in crisis; mostly because they have no honest women to guide them. Feminist confusion is ruining all of our lives but when will women ever have the courage to admit how much they have messed things up?

    • Tiffany September 9, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      Either you didn’t read the post, misunderstood it, or are holding tightly to antiquated beliefs. Are men and boys in crisis? What honest men do they have to guide them? I do not understand the “feminist confusion” you think of, mainly because feminism is clear in its message: women deserve equal rights and treatment. I believe “they” having “messed things up” refers either to feminists or women in general? Every person makes mistakes, whether they are a feminist or not (whether they consider themselves a woman or not), but it is anti-women propagandists and beliefs that hurt women far, far more than the feminist movement has, especially when it is led by intersectional feminists.

      Please refer back to the last line of the post before spouting anti-woman sentiment. Have a feminist filled day.

  3. brettbews October 5, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Reblogged this on Brett Bews and commented:
    I was thinking about the latest Miley “scandal” and how we expect every female artist, celebrity or media personality to be a “good role model for girls.” This just about NEVER comes up with regard to men and their “good role model for boys” status, and I think this post says it better than I could.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: