The Saga of Miley Cyrus’ Sheet

Over the past few days all the talk of both the entertainment and magazine worlds has been of Miley Cyrus’ back bearing photo in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair. It seems the masses have labeled the picture, which was taken by famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, as pornography and are railing against both the magazine for taking and running the photo and Cyrus for posing for it. One has to wonder, however, if the picture really the issue here, or if we should be talking more about why people are having such reactions to it? In my mind this isn’t a question of art or porn, but rather an issue of our perception of imagery, so today I’m asking is there something wrong with the Miley Cyrus Vanity Fair photo, or is there something wrong with the masses of people who when viewing it instantly think of sex?

The first complaint I want to deal with is the idea that Cyrus is showing too much skin. Really? If you think that’s a lot of skin for a fifteen year old to be showing skin you obviously haven’t been to a mall or a beach recently. Yes, she’s showing her back, so do millions of fifteen year old girls across America all summer long The fact of the matter is we have a nation of people who are so wrapped up in making everything into something sexual that they’ve lost the ability to see anything else in many things which leads to people being unable to judge a photograph such as this one based on potential artistic merit.

I guess I can see how some people might mistake the photo for being revealing, but if you look closely you’ll note Cyrus isn’t revealing anything. In fact, she’s actually covering up. The people who see it as a girl revealing herself are mixing the message of the photo with the act of the photo shoot. Yes, she had to use the sheet and expose her back for the photo shoot, but look at the photo, it’s of a young girl who is covering herself up. Her hands are gripping the sheet, which incidentally is still covering more than a lot of dresses I see on a regular basis, and pulling it tightly toward her chest. The crossing of Cyrus’ arms, according to numerous studies in body language, is a direct sign that she’s closing herself off, not opening herself up. Cyrus is also hunched over just slightly. These are all motions indicative of someone covering up, not revealing oneself.

With sexual perversion at the forefront of people’s minds it’s no surprise the next issue they have with the photo is that they feel Cyrus is giving a “come hither” look, as if she wants you to jump into bed with her and see what lies underneath the sheet she’s clutching to her chest. This is an issue with the viewer not the photograph because if that’s the first thing you think of when you see the exposed back of a fifteen year old perhaps there’s something wrong with you. A fifteen year old can’t give a “come hither” look because they don’t have enough development in their sexuality to know what one is. We as adults do, but to put those traits onto children that know no better is our issue, not theirs. It’s like when a child repeats something an adult says. They may be saying the words but they have no idea what they mean. If we assume the child knows what they mean we’re the ones at fault. Of course, if there was a guy lying next to Cyrus in the photo that would change the context entirely, but there isn’t.

Personally, I see this picture as Leibovitz’s vision of a famous fifteen year old girl saying that although at times it may seem like she’s naked to the world, her life constantly being exposed for all to see, there are still aspects of herself that she holds close and will not reveal. This picture also reminds me of a girl being awakened by a male roommate (be it father, brother, or friend) and her wanting to show she’s going to get out of bed, but not wanting to show said male her breasts. It’s actually a really artistic photograph if you look at it with an open mind. Sadly, it seems perversion is the norm and acts of art will continue to suffer because of it.

In the end I feel the Cyrus picture, like most pieces of art, was meant to arouse ideas, not libidos, and if you’re turned on by it, or see something overtly sexual in it, that’s your mind jumping to that conclusion. There is such a thing as beauty without sex. It’s our job to separate the two when necessary.


Ron said…
I totally agree - I know some moms out there must have seen the picture and immediately put Miley in the same category as Britney, Jamie-Lynn, Vanessa Hudgens, Linday, Nicole and Paris. And upon immediately flooding Disney with calls, the corporate powers that be mandated that actions had to be taken and comments issued. I bet deep down Miley & Billy Ray like the photo just fine.
imborntosing said…
i dont mind her photo... she wont have any probles if the photo were to be release in France... :-)
Stamford Talk said…
Great analysis! I've been thinking the same thing but not as coherently as you, so thank you. I like your point about the irony that she is covering up, but all we see is what she's showing, and what that says about the viewer.

I don't think the photo is that original or thought-provoking, but obviously it did provoke thought. I wonder if that's what Leibovitz intended.
Adam Bernard said…
Thanks for all the positive replies.

And to think, I thought I was gonna catch flak for being one of the few folks defending the picture!
brokeMC said…
brilliantly put.

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