I saw a comment from someone following Miley’s performance at the MTV VMAs that said “What a role model she turned out to be! How do I explain Hannah Montana’s behavior to my daughter?”
I feel like there’s an easy answer to that, really. Miley Cyrus never was Hannah Montana. She was an actress who played that role. Just because she appeared as a sweet family girl on a TV show doesn’t mean that she ever was–or wasn’t. It was television. Television is fiction.
Our kids don’t look up to Hannah Montana (or Beyonce, LeBron James, Peyton Manning or any other famous person) just because they’re nice or wholesome. There are plenty of people in our daily lives that we actually know who fit into those categories and, pretty often, we don’t think of them as role models. They’re just Mrs. Watson, Nana, Dad or Aunt Carol to us. If kids idolized people just for their character and morals, there would be a whole bunch of kids dressed up like Mother Teresa for Halloween. She’s great role model material, but kids don’t see her that way because she’s missing what they’re looking for: glitz and glamour. Whether we like it or not, kids (and some adults) “look up” to famous people for their fame and what comes with it. Sure, they may seem kind, generous, fun and likable, but that’s just a bonus. We know plenty of people who are all of those things and more, but we don’t want to act and dress like them. We save that for our glamorous stars. Kids look at those people and want to be like them for their stardom, stature, money, and other things that come with the lifestyle of being rich and famous.
The fact of the matter is that Miley Cyrus is an adult. She’s an entertainer. She can do what she wants to. And that’s what she’s been singing about–and doing. There’s a really big part of me that’s happy for her. And I hope that her parents feel the same way. I want my daughter to do her own thing. To be happy in her own skin doing what she loves to do. Isn’t that what we tell our kids? “Be yourself. The people who matter will like you just the way you are.” But there’s always an unspoken asterisk there that we need to include and address:
Be who you want to be *as long as being yourself meets the societal standards adequately enough that you don’t compromise your name or future.
I’ve thought a lot about the balance between being true to oneself while recognizing that who we present ourselves to be impacts how the world sees us. Whether we like it or not, other people’s perceptions of us affect our opportunities and options. I’ve considered how to approach that with my own daughter as she becomes more independent as she enters her teen years.
Here are some things I would tell Miley if she were my daughter:
Becoming an adult is fantastic. The independence and autonomy to do what you want to do is what you’ve been working toward your entire childhood and young adult life. Every day was meant to prepare you to stand on your own two feet.
Spread your wings and take it all in.
Enjoy life, relish it, soak it up.
Learn every day.
Try new things.
Make the most of each day.
But also remember that while you may grow and learn and change, every single thing you do is a part of you. It’s what shapes you and makes you who you are. Some people will see you where you are each day and accept you in that moment. Others will take your past into account when making judgements about you. Whether you like it or not, we all judge one another and base our relationships on those assessments.
There are some things you can forget and move forward from, others will stay with you every day for the rest of your life. Don’t be afraid of living, but be aware that the life you choose now may impact you far into the future.
Your sexuality is an amazing part of you. You should enjoy and explore that just as much as you would anything else. But you need to realize that with sex comes a great deal of responsibility–emotionally, physically, and mentally. Your overall well-being is tied to being sexually healthy and accountable. As long as you are comfortable with yourself and your sexual activity is consensual, you should enjoy sex however you like–provided that you are being safe and using protection. Some STDs are forever and some can be deadly.
Sex is so much more than a physical act. It’s emotional. It’s mental. It can be about power–having it, giving it, or taking it. It is often used and abused by people for more reasons than I could ever list. Be sure that you understand how you see sex. That will influence how you portray yourself and engage with others.
Expressing your sexuality is tricky. It goes back to people making judgements. Don’t sell yourself short by putting more emphasis on your physicality than your mind. Being smart is sexy. Being funny is sexy. Although you will catch someone’s eye while you’re twerking, that will be temporary. They’ll forget about you when the next shiny, bouncy booty comes along. Get someone’s attention with your mind. That will last and make more of an impact. Don’t allow yourself to be a flash in the pan who’s only known for shakin’ it. Make a sustainable name for yourself. Make your mark in a meaningful way. Physical beauty fades but a sexy mind grows every day.
Some people will not be comfortable with the same level of expression that you are. Others will find it perfectly acceptable. Someone’s discomfort in seeing you express yourself has more to do with their comfort (or lack thereof) with their own sexuality than yours. However, their opinion is based on their experiences and perspective, not yours. What you choose to reveal about yourself to others is a reflection of you at the moment. However, that moment’s reflection can carry far into the future whether you grow and change or not. Be aware of that.
It’s your party. You can do what you want to. Say what you want to. Love who you want to. But the one thing you can’t do is tell the world how to see you. Make your life what you want it to be. Make a name for yourself on your own two feet. But don’t try so hard to show the world that you can do and say what you want to that you forget to pay attention to what you’re doing and saying.
It’s perfectly reasonable to want to step away from the sweet Disney teen star image and step into your own spotlight. It’s obvious that you didn’t just want to break that mold, you wanted to shatter it completely. There’s no denying that you are your own person, an adult living on your own making decisions for yourself. Just be smart about it.
Message received: Hannah Montana has left the building.