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Miley Cyrus' VMA Performance and the Sexualization of Society Essay

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Miley Cyrus' A1 VMA Performance and the Sexualization of Society

September 15, 2013

Outline A2

  1. Young girls are sexualized in American society.
  2. Miley Cyrus gave a very sexual performance at the 2013 VMA awards.
  3. Cyrus' performance had both supporters and those who felt she was in the wrong.
  4. Girls and young women often look to celebrities for appropriate behavior.
  5. Celebrities do not always look at the "big picture" of who they might be affecting with their choices.
  6. There is concern that young girls are becoming very sexual much too early in life because of what they see in the media.
  7. The way the media portrays girls and young women affects their self-esteem and body image issues.
  8. More should be done to help protect the innocence and body image of young girls in the United States.

Introduction A3 : The Sexualization of Young Girls in Society        

            In American society in 2013, it is no secret that sex sells. Sexuality is used to entice customers to buy all manner and type of products, along with various services. But A4 when is it too much? The young women and girls in advertisements for products and services appear to be getting younger, but at the same time the treatment of them as "very adult" has only increased (Zurbriggen & Roberts 55). A5 This is sending a deceptive message that is two-fold. The first part of that message involves the over-sexualization of society as a whole, and the second part of the message is focused on the sexualization issue as it specifically relates to young women and girls (Zurbriggen & Roberts 57).

While these are two separate issues to some degree, they are also strongly related to one another in that one of the issues seems to feed off of the other one, until it becomes difficult to tell which one began first and/or which one is causing further development of the other. To A6 better understand the issue of the sexualization of young girls in society, it is important to take a look at an example of it and how that type of behavior and its portrayal in the media affects the development and body image beliefs of girls and young women.  

Miley Cyrus and the VMAs

            There are many examples of treating girls and young women as very sexual beings. Some of these seem to be staged or expected in some way, while others seem to have happened more by accident or at random. Of those that are clearly very deliberate, a recent example is Miley Cyrus and her "twerking" performance with Robin Thicke at the Video Music Awards (VMAs). According to the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary (2013), to twerk is defined as to "dance A7 to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance."

Cyrus, who became famous for playing Disney's Hannah Montana, is 20 years old and has reached the age where she is working to shed her "little girl" image. While that is to be expected, many people are questioning whether the sexual nature of her VMA performance and a similar theme in the recent video for her song "Wrecking Ball" are the appropriate way to shed that image, or whether they just further contribute to treating girls and young women as sex objects (Duca). A8

Supporters and Backlash A9

Cyrus has stated that she wanted to make history, and that was what the performance was about. She appeared very unconcerned as to whether other people were bothered by the sexuality in her performance (Duca). There have been opinions on both sides of the aisle, and these have been along religious, moral, and even racial lines. She has been called everything from groundbreaking to trashy, and has dealt with a lot of supportive people (including her father, country star Billy Ray Cyrus) as well as a lot of those who were completely turned off by her performance.

Every story about her that appears on the Internet gains large numbers of comments, with many voicing their disapproval of the path Cyrus has chosen to take. Some of her fans have left her because of the changes in which she has been recently involved, and the editor of Vogue magazine has publicly said she has changed her mind about having Cyrus on the December cover (Collier). The life that Cyrus lives is certainly her own, but those who are in the public eye can easily fail to see what their behavior is doing to the large numbers of fans they have in their own country and throughout the world. As the backlash over Cyrus' behavior grows, her reputation could be damaged. This could take some time to repair, assuming she chooses to do so.

Looking to Celebrities for Behavioral Norms

            There are several ways to look at this issue. The first is that many girls and young women look to celebrities when considering how they are "supposed to" act. They want to know what is "normal" for them at a particular age, and they want to emulate what they see their favorite stars do (Sexuality). That, in and of itself, is not necessarily unhealthy. Young people look up to others beginning very early in life (Committee). Often, they look up to their parents when they are very young, but as they grow older they begin to branch out and they start examining more of the world around them.

That can lead them to an interest in other people, and celebrities are so often in the media that it is easy to follow them and find out information about them or see their performances (Committee). The more these celebrities begin to act sexual, especially at young ages, the more their followers do the same. There are some, of course, who will turn away from that kind of behavior and move on to follow celebrities with different values. Others do not "get hooked" on celebrities or the media at all, but this is becoming increasingly rare in a digital and global society (Zurgriggen & Roberts 76).

Celebrities and the Bigger Picture

            Where celebrities are concerned, there is a much bigger picture that can and should be addressed (Sexuality). Cyrus' life is her own to live, and it can be argued that people should not take their cues in life from what a celebrity is doing. However, celebrities who are conscious of the impact they have on society and their fan base are much more likely to be aware of their words and actions, to help protect not only their reputations but the people who look up to them (Sexuality). When these celebrities choose to be over-sexualized and exaggerate that part of their lives, especially at young ages, they move a large segment of society closer to a new normal, where that type of behavior is acceptable (Sexuality).

They also change the way fans, specifically girls and young women, look at themselves. Their body image can easily be affected by the belief that they are not "hot" and do not look the way their favorite celebrities do (Zurgriggen & Roberts 88). The argument becomes whether celebrities have any kind of responsibility to their fans, when it comes to how they conduct themselves when in the public eye (Committee). These individuals, Cyrus included, have more influence over their fan bases than they may want or realize, but it is not something that is going to go away. Because they are in the spotlight, their choices help shape the choices for a new generation of young people who are growing up watching them on TV and online, and listening to their music. It is up to individual celebrities to think about their choices and decide whether they are potentially doing harm to their fan base.

The Media is Contributing to Early Sexualization

            It is no secret that the media is contributing to early sexualization of girls and young women. Performances like the one put on by Cyrus at the VMAs are only a small part of the problem. A study conducted by the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2008 showed that over 65% of the shows on television at that time had some form of sexual content in them (Committee). It is not just TV, either, that has become part of the problem in this regard. The lyrics to a great deal of popular music also contain sexual references, along with related discussion about how women are supposed to look and their value based on how sexual they are (Committee).

Essentially, the media is currently using popular celebrities to teach girls and young women that they must be open sexually from a very young age or they will be labeled a "tease," a "prude," or worse. Magazines contribute to the issue by photoshopping women to look as beautiful and sensual as possible, putting them in outfits that would not be acceptable to wear in most instances, and then promising to tell readers how they can look like that – when it is not really possible (or necessary) at all. When these magazines target tweens and teens, the message is that it is acceptable and even necessary to sexual at that age, so you can be important and valued by society.        

Self Esteem and Body Image are Affected by Media Portrayals

            The way the media portrays girls and young women affects both self esteem and body image. Girls who do not look like Cyrus, cannot twerk or perform like her, and are not seen as sexual, may feel as though they are missing out on something. They may also feel shame about their bodies, which can lead to unacceptable behaviors like anorexia and bulimia (Zurgriggen & Roberts 95). Young women are being taught that there is a great deal of value in sexuality. While it is a natural part of life for most people when it is age-appropriate, the overarching media message seems to be that sexuality is what matters most for a woman (Committee). This is what will attract a good looking man who has money, and what will get a woman ahead in life (Committee).

Naturally, this is a fallacy. There is much more to life than sexuality and looks, which the majority of people determine as they grow older. However, there is no reason to teach girls and young women that how they look and whether they are "hot" is the most important issue for them (Sexuality). Those types of concerns should be very low on the list, especially for young girls, but when the media keeps pushing performances like Cyrus' onto the public, it is very difficult to convince girls and young women that it is not necessary to be sexual to be popular or to be successful in life.

More C1 Can be Done to Protect Young Girls

            When it comes to protecting young girls from media messages that provide them with overly sexual references, more can and should be C2 done. Society is changing very rapidly, and children are not getting the opportunity to have innocent childhoods like they did in the past. In many cases, they grow up quickly because of the way they are taught by the media and also by their peers. More regulations on television content could help reduce some of the sexualization of girls and young women, but music and magazines are also to blame (Zurgriggen & Roberts, 124). It is becoming very difficult to shelter children from the changes that are taking place in the world in many different arenas, and how fast they are growing up is just one aspect of that. Parents have to remain vigilant, but there is more to the issue than just what parents are capable of controlling.

            The media really has to make the changes in order for young girls to be more protected from the risks of over-sexualization. Without cooperation from TV, film, magazines, and music, nothing will change and the concerns over how sexual girls are becoming at young ages will continue to grow. Not every parent sees it as a problem, of course, but many are deeply concerned about the changes they are seeing in the media. Cyrus, for example, used to appear very innocent and wholesome; a good role model for young girls. Her performance at the VMAs was not something that could be considered wholesome, but she is also no longer the little girl who worked for Disney, either. Girls who looked up to her must understand that she has grown up considerably during that time and her values and beliefs are not the same as they were when she was a child. Growing up in the media spotlight is also difficult, and teaching children good values that do not come from the media is a difficult but important job that can be undertaken by parents.   

Works Cited C3

Collier, Myles. Miley Cyrus Twerking Backlash Gets Singer Dropped from Vogue Cover. The Christian Post. 9 September 2013. Web. 13 September 2013. C4

Committee on Public Education. "Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media. Policy Statement Parent Pages. American Academy of Pediatrics." Pediatrics, 107.1 (2001): 191-94. Print.

Duca, Lauren. The Miley Cyrus Twerking Backlash, for Idiots. The Huffington Post. 28 August 2013. Web. 12 September 2013.

           Sexuality in the Mass Media: How to View the Media Critically. University of California at Santa Barbara. 2008. Web. 12 September 2013.

           Twerk. Oxford English Dictionary Online. August 2013. Web. 14 September 2013.

           Zurbriggen, Eileen L. and Tomi-Ann Roberts (Eds). The Sexualization of Girls and Girlhood: Causes, Consequences, and Resistance. New     York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.


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