When my youngest daughter was 11 years old, she was a huge Hannah Montana fan. Hannah Montana, in case you don’t know, was the Disney TV show that first aired in 2006 and launched the career of singer and actress Miley Cyrus. In the show, she was a typical teenager during the day who transformed into a famous pop singer by night. She had help in this adventure from her show/real-life father, former country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. Cyrus is best known to people of my generation for his (famous or infamous, depending on your taste in music) song “Achy Breaky Heart.”
It was a cute show, and Miley was a cute teen idol. My daughter’s middle school sports teams used her famous song “The Climb” in their video at their year-end banquet. Thankfully, my girl had outgrown her Hannah Montana phase by the time the show ended, because it seemed like Cyrus wasted no time shedding that “Disney girl” image and her clothing. She is now known for wearing not much of anything when she performs. In the video of her song “Wrecking Ball,” she planted her entirely nude self on top of a swinging wrecking ball.
I bring all of this up because Cyrus was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live on Dec. 15, performing in a very wide open Gucci jacket and pants with – you guessed it – nothing underneath the jacket except sticky tape, which was strategically placed over her mostly exposed breasts to keep a Janet Jackson Super Bowl-type reveal from happening again on live TV. During her second song, she wore a different outfit, again sporting a plunging, very wide open neckline (and again thankfully employing the use of that sticky tape).
Miley’s choice of outfits is of course her prerogative. If she wants to bare all, hey, so be it. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it just seems a bit contradictory. If you want to be taken seriously as a singer (the woman obviously has some talent – she did a rather impressive, deep-throated rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” for a Backyard Sessions series on Youtube), why the need to still reveal your body?
I suppose the same could be said for many women. We’ve gained a lot of ground in the past year with the movement to call out sexual harassers/assaulters and collectively say, “No more!” And a woman’s choice to dress provocatively does not give a man permission to sexually assault her, even if she proudly flaunts her sexuality. So, I guess it boils down to a matter of class. You can either dress with class, or, as Cyrus did on SNL the other night, without it. I used to tell my three daughters, it’s a lot sexier to leave something to the imagination than to reveal practically everything you’ve got goin’ on.
Of course you may not agree. Many women, I’m sure, will defend Cyrus’ choice to tape her jacket to her bare chest, covering those breasts just enough to keep the TV censors happy. And it was late night TV, after all, where practically anything goes. But when a famous woman dresses like that, for the rest of the population of young women it seems like one step up, two steps back.
Cyrus I am sure has bodyguards. But any regular woman walking down the street dressed that way – let’s face it – would put herself in jeopardy – even in the wake of #MeToo. She might be mistaken for a prostitute. And no, that doesn’t mean it is acceptable for a man to sexually assault a prostitute, either. But if you want to reveal your body to the public, you cannot expect to be taken seriously as a professional (unless your profession is prostitution or stripping) because everyone’s eyes will just be glued to your reveal and they won’t be listening to the words that are coming out of your mouth, the music you are playing, the presentation you are giving, etc.
No matter how hard you argue, as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
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Jayne Flores is a long-time journalist. She currently works at Guam Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.