The Miley Cyrus Effect: Young Girls Acting Like (Trashy) Adults

A video of young girls provocatively dancing in skimpy outfits recently surfaced on the Internet. The public outcry it garnered was so great that the girls’ parents appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to defend the dance routine. But the inappropriate dancing shouldn’t really be surprising in an era when girls are exposed to less-than ideal role models and bombarded with sexualized messages in the media.

From Lindsay Lohan to Britney Spears, positive role models are hard to find in the entertainment industry. Even teen sensation Miley Cyrus, known for her breakout role in Disney’s wholesome “Hannah Montana,” has been shedding her good girl image. Despite wearing her religious faith on her sleeve, Cyrus has had some controversies in the past and was recently hit with a couple more scandals. Her new music video, “Can’t Be Tamed” featured her dancing provocatively, and footage recently emerged of her grinding with a man in his forties at a party.

The raunch isn’t just confined to “pop tarts.” Everywhere in pop culture girls see highly sexualized representations of women, hear suggestive or even explicitly sexual lyrics, and they emulate. It’s a  phenomenon that gives pause even to some in the entertainment business. Former sex symbol Raquel Welch complained recently in a CNN op-ed that our culture is hyper-sexual. She wrote, “Seriously, folks, if an aging sex symbol like me starts waving the red flag of caution over how low moral standards have plummeted, you know it's gotta be pretty bad.”

 But with these young singers and actresses, with whom girls identify and want to imitate, the problem is especially acute. Author of “Prude,” Carol Platt Liebau explained, “When admired pop or rap stars model over-the-top sexuality availability and sexual aggression … that behavior normalizes and romanticizes the vulgarity and makes it acceptable.”

The Offending Video

The controversial video of the young girls dancing is without a doubt appalling. Taken at a World of Dance Competition in California, it featured five girls, eight- and nine-year-olds, dancing to Beyonce’s hit song “Single Ladies.” The young dancers are scantily clothed in what would equal a bikini, with their stomachs are completely showing.

The dance itself wasn’t much better than the skimpy costumes. The video featured the girls grinding and thrusting through extremely suggestive dance moves.

On May 14, “Good Morning America” pointed out the many criticisms of the video. George Stephanopoulos quoted Babble.com saying, “Viewers were upset about the girls being exploited, used, and the entire un-age-appropriateness of the outfits, let alone the inappropriate song choice. It’s like they’re getting ready for the boom boom room instead of the romper room.”

Contributor John Berman showed comments from YouTube that asked “Why is this legal?” and another comment from Huffington Post questioned, “Do they have to bump and grind and wear such a sexy outfit?” People interviewed on the street were equally disgusted. One interviewee stated, “I’m just kind of shocked.” Another one quipped, “It probably wouldn’t matter if they were wearing sweatpants or a bikini, but the grinding wasn’t appropriate.”

Yet two of the girls’ parents, Cory Miller and Melissa Presch, appeared on “GMA” to answer the criticism. The parents both insisted that the video was “taken out of context.” Miller asserted that, “it was completely normal for dancing” while Presch stated, “And we’re very proud of our daughters and their accomplishments.”

Presch defended the skimpy outfits as being “designed for movement” and “very normal within that context.” Of the song choice, she said, “This is pop culture and unless you completely isolate your children from television and music, they’re going to be dancing and singing to songs that are popular on the radio …”

Dizzies from Disney

On GMA, the mothers stressed that their daughters didn’t regularly watch music videos in general or Beyonce videos in particular. Perhaps they watch Disney, in which case, they may have come across the successors to Disney girls that have not fared too well.

Lindsay Lohan is one example. She debuted in Disney’s “The Parent Trap,” but is now better known for her intense partying, drinking, and bizarre behavior, including posting a picture of her topless on her Twitter page. Lohan was also romantically linked with a woman, Samantha Ronson.

Former Mouseketeer Britney Spears isn’t a much better example. She too has been known for her out of control partying and has already been married twice. The singer shaved off all of her hair after checking out of rehab in 2007. Although Spears’ behavior has been improving, the lyrics of her latest songs are quite vulgar.

Spears’ “If You Seek Amy” is a not so subtle way of saying “F--- me.” Another one her songs, “3” is about a threesome. It’s not just Spears singing about sex. During the summer of 2009, 69 percent of songs on Mediabase’s top 20 airplay charts featured references to sex, alcohol, drugs, or contained profanity.

Spears’ fellow Mouseketeer, Christina Aguilera, hasn’t done much better in the purity department. Her new video is an over-the-top mélange of black leather and flesh.

From Montana to Hollywood

Given those cautionary tales, Cyrus may at first seem like a positive role model. She has starred in children movies, such as “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and “High School Musical 2.” (Of course, not even “High School Musical” stars have been great examples for girls. Star Vanessa Hudgens had nude photos of her appear on the Internet.)

But Cyrus has taken a purity pledge to remain abstinent. She has stated, “I want to keep my virginity until I marry. I was brought up in a Christian family.” One of her hit songs from 2009, “The Climb” was a motivational song about a difficult journey that would be worth in it the end, and it was featured in “Hannah Montana: The Movie.”

Cyrus may have come a long way since her role on “Hannah Montana.” But to young girls who watched the show, they still look up to her because she is still Hannah Montana to them. Even CNN’s Rick Sanchez still associated Cyrus with being Hannah Montana. He labeled Cyrus “Disney’s sweetheart” on May 13, stating, “Disney princess, 16-year-old Miley Cyrus, doing something my staff told me is called the grind. On a grown man. This guy's 44 years old. The reaction? Not good for Hannah Montana.”

Her first major controversy arose when she was a mere fifteen years old in 2008. She posed along with her father, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, for Vanity Fair. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, one photo featured Cyrus sitting down, wrapped only in a sheet, with her back completely exposed.

Another photo from the shot featured Cyrus, with her midriff showing, laying into her father’s lap and arms. Both look sultry – nothing like a father and daughter picture.

In August of 2009, Cyrus performed her wildly popular song “Party in the U.S.A.” at the Teen Choice Awards which aired on Fox. Wearing extremely short shorts, black high-heels boots, and visible black bra, she danced on top of an ice cream cart that had a pole, which she used to dance around. Even though she didn’t pole dance the entire song, it still was inappropriate behavior for a broadcast aimed at “tweens” and teens.

Her recent actions are the most troubling. TMZ reported at the wrap up party for her movie “The Last Song,” the then sixteen-years-old grinded with and then gave 44-year-old Adam Shankman, who produced the movie, a lap dance. In the video Cyrus is wearing short shorts and can be seen bumping and grinding against the openly gay Shankman.

When Shankman stopped dancing and turned around, Cyrus rested her hands on his shoulders and continued dancing. Later in the video, Shankman sat down and Cyrus faced the opposite direction of him and gave him a lap dance. With her hands in the air, she danced along to the music.

Asked about the video, her father didn’t seem to understand what the big deal was. Cyrus stated that it’s “simply what people her age do. She was just having fun.”

While the dancing was not as provocative, Cyrus’ new music video, “Can’t Be Tamed,” has already received over 5 million hits on YouTube and featured Cyrus in a tight one piece leotard, dancing in a cage along with others similarly dressed. Parts of the dance are suggestive and sexual.

Even the media has noticed Cyrus’ inappropriate dancing. She is set to perform on the popular television show, “Dancing with the Stars” and reports have surfaced that producers have told her she must keep her dancing “G-rated.”

When girls see Cyrus and their other favorite actresses and singers behaving like that, it normalizes the behavior. So when young girls do dance provocatively to “Single Ladies” it, unfortunately, should really come as no surprise since their role models behave the same way.