Once upon a time, being compared to Miley Cyrus was such a vile proposition that it almost ended my relationship. My adorably naïve then-boyfriend (now-husband) thought he was giving me a compliment when he said, “Y’know who you remind me of?”
In return, he received his first-ever JENNIE DEATH STARE. I launched us into a fight so atrocious and unexpected that I almost scared him away for good. But you guys, I really couldn’t stand Miley Cyrus. I wasn’t into the tacky glitz; I wasn’t into the cheesy music; I definitely wasn’t into knowing that the basis for the comparison probably stemmed from the fact that we both have the adorably pudgy cheeks of a baby cherub (all I’ve ever wanted are visible cheekbones).
But, most of all, I wasn’t into this version of the girl next door: seemingly vacuous, clearly catering to the male gaze, and generally coming across as kind of blah in an effort to offend no one.
BUT. Miley and I have both come a long way, baby (cheeks). Here’s a map of my path to discovering a deep respect for this woman:
1. It all started with the music. I saw online that Miley had launched a new website. I linked over, looking for fodder to tease the boyfriend with (that original Miley reference is now a cornerstone of our inside humor). Lo and behold, let the pudgy cherubs sing: I found out that she is actually very talented. PLEASE check out all three videos from The Backyard Sessions, where she performs gorgeous, raspy covers of some of her favorite songs. They’re real and earthy and exquisitely effortless. Hello, Miley.
2. Then she cut her hair. This is not news; we ALL know that she cut her hair, and most of us have strangely strong feelings about it one way or another. As for me, I swooned. At the time, I was 27 and having a serious internal debate over chopping off my own shoulder-length locks. Miley was only 19, and she made it look so easy. She committed to a drastic choice – the haters hated, hard – and she was cool and collected and did exactly what she wanted despite them.
For me, a heroine was born that day. Three months later, I cut off twelve inches of my hair and sent it to Locks of Love. Along with the trimmings, I also left a lot of self-doubt behind on that salon floor. Yes, my husband would still find me attractive with short hair. No, I wouldn’t instantly regret my choice the first time someone questioned it. Yes, I was doing this, because it felt fun and exciting to me. Thanks, Miley, for being an amazing example.
3. Since then, Miley’s transformation has moved far past the physical. Let me highlight her intellectual maturation with a quick comparison. In June 2008, the infamous “sheet shot” showing her bare back ran in Vanity Fair.
At the time, Disney representatives (concerned with her image as the lead in Hannah Montana) were outraged:
“For Miley Cyrus to be a ‘good girl’ is now a business decision for her. Parents have invested in her a godliness. If she violates that trust, she won’t get it back.”
So, Miley said she was sorry:
“I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now … I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans.”
That was Miley at 15. Let’s jump to Miley at 19. Last year, she re-tweeted a quote from physicist Lawrence Krauss and said it was, “Beautiful.”
The quote contained the phrase, “So forget Jesus. Stars died so you could live.” When critics came out of the woodwork to accuse Miley of abandoning her Christian roots, she (oh so calmly and eloquently) defended her thoughts:
Get ’em, girl. Something wonderful has happened in the last four years.
And now, we’ve reached the end of my road map. X marks the spot where I find myself happily recognizing Miley as a feminist celebrity. Yes, she made some choices growing up in the public eye that would cause a certain type of “feminist” to raise an eyebrow. (“What? She posed with her tongue touching a penis-shaped birthday cake?? She used her sexuality to boost her album sales??? I’m not so sure about this one…”) But in my book, she’s got real feminism nailed:
She cultivates an outward appearance that she loves, regardless of detractors who say her previous look was sexier/more beautiful/more womanly.
She follows her passions, whether it’s country music, dubstep, or twerking in a unicorn suit. (You’ll have to find your own link for that one, since I didn’t find it especially mesmerizing… but she definitely had a good time.)
And – most crucially – she holds her own opinions and defends them in the face of public opposition because she’s confident enough to practice her own beliefs in her own way.
As for my original disdain? I’ve learned some things about being a feminist, too. Besides being generally less judgemental of other women who are trying their best, I’ve learned to especially give some space to young women. I want to raise daughters someday, and when they are 15, I hope the people around them will realize that they’re in the middle of a long process of growing into themselves.
Just as it took Miley time to find her own voice (both literally and figuratively), she also needed time to experience enough of the world to make an informed decision about who she wants to be. Like the lyrics from her Backyard Sessions song Lilac Wine say:
“I made wine from the lilac tree
Put my heart in its recipe
It makes me see what I want to see
And be what I want to be.“