When Miley Cyrus sang at the MTV Video Music Awards this year, she took fans and viewers through a roller coaster of reactions and emotions with her now infamous performance that included insane amounts of “twerking,” people in costumes, a foam finger and a whole lot of tongue.
With that performance, she effectively turned her good girl “Hannah Montana” image on its head in about four minutes and showed no remorse whatsoever.
And it got her exactly what she was looking for: A huge boost in popularity as it got people talking, her name trending on social media for weeks on end.
Many were quick to judge the 21-year-old pop singer for her oversexed performance and her nonchalant attitude about it afterwards, saying it was not “cool” and that she was pimping herself out for the music business.
One person who does not seem to see it that way is Cyrus’ fellow former Disney star Selena Gomez, who has repeatedly said she doesn’t need sex to sell sexy.
While the former “Wizards of Waverly Place” actress praised Cyrus’ performance saying she thought the collaboration with Robin Thicke was “amazing” and that she “loved it,” she was also quick to distance herself from falling victim of overtly sexual performances.
During her “Stars Dance” tour across the country, Gomez, 21, told many of her audiences that she did not feel she needed to be overtly sexy or scandalous to win over fans.
During a stop in Philadelphia in late October, the singer told fans to be true to themselves — just like she tries to be.
“Every day I get told I’m not sexy enough or I’m not cool enough or if I did this or if I did that, I would have people who love me,” she said. “Look at this room. I don’t have to do any of that to have love … Let me tell you one thing, the sexiest thing I think – actually, I know – is class.”
The former Disney sweethearts are portraying two very different messages to young fans around the world. But which one is giving the correct image?
Psychologist Rebecca Collins, a member of the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, said portraying an oversexed message can be harmful for young girls.
“A lot of our sexuality now is kind of pornified; it’s about stripper culture,” Collins told USA Today in October. “What we see as sexy are things that really are about the buying and selling of sex, instead of what sex is really all about, which can be very healthy and a wonderful thing. We shouldn’t try to eliminate it from life, it’s just that we shouldn’t think of it as something to be bought and sold.”
In 2007, the APA Task Force issued a report stating that sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including a young girl’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, as well as on her mental health and sexual development.
The report went on to say that because young girls are heavy consumers of TV and media, the portrayals of women they see “provides girls with models that they can use to fashion their own behaviors, self-concepts and identity.”
Collins said hypersexed performances are rebroadcasting “a broader societal message that women’s value is in their sexuality and in a particular kind of sexuality that’s very objectified and commodified.”
And while Collins’ thoughts are similar to those who condemned Cyrus’ actions at the VMAs, others came out in her defense saying the singer was pushing the envelope because she wants to, because she can, and because she must to survive in the business.
“I took off my clothes in movies. I posed nude,” said former child star Alyssa Milano, 40, in October, according to USA Today. “I did all the things that (Miley’s) doing now, and I did it to continue working, to hold people’s interest in what I was doing.”
So who is to blame?
Many say it is society at large that plays the hand for many young artists who have to make the choice to act like a sexpot to sell themselves to the masses.
Even famous feminist Gloria Steinem, 70, blames this culture. She told Yahoo’s Omg! Insider at the 2013 Women’s Media Awards that she wishes women did not have to be nude to be noticed, “but given the game as it exists, women make decisions.”
“I think that we need to change the culture, not blame the people that are playing the only game that exists,” she continued.