[Is this also a 'sick' or 'sexual' photo? I suppose it's what we make of it. You could see a loving father/daughter or incest. I, personally, see a picture of two beautiful people who happen to be related.]
The backlash against Miley’s pictures in Vanity Fair should have been timed with a stopwatch. The reaction would have been fast, maybe even a world-reactionary record (where the ‘world’ is mostly confined to the United States, natch). The problem? People seem to be outraged that a 15-year-old girl is draped in a sheet, looking all ‘post-coital’.
It is definitely disturbing, but hasn’t anyone been paying attention for the past 30 years or so? Fashion models are often naked, and barely 18. Other models, under 18, are scantily clad ALL THE TIME in fashion ads. But, maybe ‘fashion’ gets a pass. I’ve always been a little suspicious of the barely legal girls, looking dead sexy, trying to sell me a bra, or jeans, or whatever. You rarely see, however, any real backlash against them. Perhaps because they aren’t on the Disney channel, hardly anyone thinks of them as ‘role models’, and none of them are easily recognized except a few big names. And anyway, can you imagine your daughter worshiping Kate Moss as a role model? What would the Kate Moss merchandise look like? A small pile of cocaine, a meth-ed out boyfriend, and a fashionable bag and hat to match?
These photos are beautiful, no matter what you think they mean. Meaning is applied by the viewer. You’d have to ask Leibovitz about the intent. And who knows? Better yet, who cares?
Why is this ad any less disturbing? To some – especially in fashion – it was a direct strike at what the media and marketing/PR companies promote to us as ‘beauty’. This women is naked, but she isn’t half as sexualized as Miley.
How young do you think the girl in the middle of this ad is? Does it matter if she is actually 23, but looks 16? Isn’t it the looking 16 that the advertisers are really after?
Now, I know that most people who have been calling Miley a whore will also think these girls are whores, too. And, because of my own picture above, I’m probably in the same bag. But before we cast stones at Miley, shouldn’t we analyze the culture in which she exists? Shouldn’t we look at what we take to be normal in 2008 and ask some questions? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves some hard truths?
Sex sells. Until it doesn’t, this is just going to be ‘business as usual’. As a feminist, I waffle about my own sexuality, wearing bikinis, and trying to look good all the time. But, then I think, why not? Why can’t a woman be beautiful, celebrate it, and also be savvy or smart about how she uses it? Certainly, women in Rome wouldn’t have blinked at this picture, if they had had pictures back then. And, Greeks and Romans did provide the model for all the freedoms we so passionately support.
Maybe this is just all to do with our Puritan ancestry. We just can’t escape from our own prudery. And the irony is that prudery leads to more underground perversion. The more you make sex into a big deal, the bigger problem you will have. Which is great for the advertisers and anyone selling us anything. It’s a vicious cycle, and I can’t see it disappearing anytime soon.
These are my two cents. But, then again, what do I know? I’m just a cultural anthropologist trying to make sense of how we see China. And that’s a-whole-nother can of worms.