« Is Metrosexual Man History? | Main | Alice Walker's Daughter Speaks Out About Mom & Motherhood »

May 16, 2008


Erin Palazzolo

What an insightful post, Allison...I, too, have had this controversy on my mind...as an artist and high school art teacher to girls, I kept thinking to myself: art or no art, I can't imagine one of my ninth grade students posing for that spread...how are they any different from Miley Cyrus? They are alternately thrilled and embarrassed when (just) their braces come off!

My husband referred back to a post I wrote a long time ago on "Protecting Lindsay Lohan" - who is protecting the integrity (body & soul) of these young women? Disturbingly enough, it does not seem to be their parents. Apparently Cyrus' parents were at her photo shoot, offering plenty of encouragement! What I think happens here is parents have the power to overexpose their own children and distort their inherent sense of propriety...it must be very confusing for girls who want to please their parents to live up to a sexualized expectation...very damaging too.

Go way back to Brooke Shields' exploitation by her mother, Calvin Klein, the movie producers of Pretty Baby. According to the Internet Movie Database,
"Nude photos of Brooke, taken by photographer Garry Gross, when Shields was 10, were displayed in Manhattan's American Fine Arts Gallery, September 10th, 1998. The actress had sued Gross in 1981, tearfully testifying that the pictures embarrassed her, but a court decision in 1983 gave Gross the okay to display the photos."

How degrading...and victimizing:( We can hope for a better future for Miley.

Michelle Brock

The Cyrus photo spread saddened me. I think it is reasonable that she overcame her discomfort with the photo shoot because she thought she shouldn't be embarrassed by "art." On the other hand, I have a hard time understanding how a parent could allow a child to disrobe for any photo shoot (Or allow the publication of such pictures).

The discussion leads me to wonder where you are headed. Are you including all nude art, including sculptures by the great masters, et al, or just photographs? If not, how do you make the distinction? I am reminded of the statue "The Greek Slave" by Hiram Powers. Even today, this nude female statue is presented as an example of modesty. The story itself might illustrate modesty, but the portrayal in art seems to exploit modesty. I wonder how this statue and others fit within your critique.

Michelle at as4me.net


It just shows we live in such a perverted society that sexualizes childrens and teens.


Every artistic nude is tasteful - until a slobbering, leering, horny person finds it exactly to his - or her - 'taste'. Then it's degrading and embarrassing.


The world is confusing and hypocritical when it comes to underage girls and sexuality. We tell them that they're "too young" but fully support the "choice" of adults to openly partake in these activities. You just cannot teach young people that something can be inappropriate for them while flaunting the very thing around them.

It's no surprise that Miley was influenced into believing that what she did was no more inappropriate than the Vanity Fair cover of a naked, pregnant, Demi Moore or the cover with, a strategically posed, naked Keira Knightly and Scarlett Johanson.
So I do feel a bit protective of this girl when the same crowd wouldn't have flinched an eye had Miley been over 18.
After all, children are just a byproduct of the rest of our society.
If we show them that virtue and honor are to be praised, than that's what they'll strive for, just as if we show them that sensationalism and vulgar manners is deemed appropriate than that is what they'll strive for. Monkey see, monkey do, as they say

Sandy Brown

This is so sad to see where our culture contintues to race to. How is this going to be viewed legally by pedophiles who seek to legalize child pornography and justify their perversions for exploiting children? One needs only read the news on child trafficking and child pornography to see the explosive growth in the industry and the demand. When "consent" is in appearance on national magazines it only hurts thousands of innocnt children who do not have consent. My passion is to help children and work with trafficked victims and this just really breaks my heart.


All right. Everyone's saying she's "wrapped in a sheet" and she is not. She is wearing a shirt. A backless, strapless shirt. Whether you approve of such shirts or not, it is still a shirt, and not a sheet. Her grandmother was present at the photo shoot; her family thought the portrait was beautiful and natural.

Thomas Babcock

I might make one comment regarding nudity in art, contrasted to the Miley picture. Some nude art obviously reveals the model in her own (or his own) right, and if the model is comfortable with that, so be it. But other nude art, e.g., the three graces, or artistic depictions of mythology or classic themes (The Greek Slave, cited above) do not so obviously reveal the model's identity. I do not intend to make a value judgment between these types of nude art, rather I would point to Miley's (like Brook's) comfort with the end product as an indication of whether the result is art or is exploitation.

Further points regarding the Miley portrait:
1. Is she old enough to consent to be presented in such a manner?
2. Is the photographer producing this as a presentation of the beauty of the human form, or is the purpose to take advantage of Miley's fame?
3. What is the motivation for the publicity of this by the press and tabloids?
4. Shirt or sheet, what emotions/reactions would the artist expect from those viewing the photo?

Gina Dalfonzo

Some really good points there, Allison.



That, dear madam, is not a shirt. And it is not okay.


I am a young man not much older than Miley (20), and I heard about the controversy on a local talk radio. I, of course, had to see what all the fuss was about and did a quick Google search for the picture. Shock and dismay!

What I find interesting is the age line. We don't often mind artistic nudes of babies, because, hey, they're babies! At what age do we draw the line? I'd say once a child crosses around three, when they have great ease in reaching their hands over their heads and start to achieve more natural adult proportions (breasts and hips not included for the young ladies), we swing wide the door for exploitatin--and especially for the teenager set as they are going through puberty and are learning how to fully express themselves physically.

Vanity Fair had the nerve to post a video on YouTube calling it a "relaxed family event"--ha! Billy Ray is a celebrity in his own right and is accordingly used to being posed by photographers, and Miley is as well. Seeing some of the poses Miss Leibovitz put Miley in--with and without her father--and then her saying "it wasn't sexual" is hilarious, because it's so obviously not true.

Beautiful art? Perhaps. But it's art sold on sexuality--Venus de Milo, anyone?

Lauren Smith


Sorry to say, Miley was NOT wearing a shirt on the day of the photoshoot. Here's a picture clearly showing it was a sheet.


I agree that this is something we should really be worried about. I feel so, so bad for Miley.


Does this have to do with that morning drive-time news item a couple weeks ago? The one where my clock-radio went off and the first thing I heard to wake me up was "HANNA MONTANA IS A HO!!!!"?

On the other hand, I have a hard time understanding how a parent could allow a child to disrobe for any photo shoot (Or allow the publication of such pictures).

Because it'll make the kid a bigger CELEBRITY! (And make me the parent of a CELEBRITY! $$$$$!) As has been done since Jean Harlow's family lived entirely by mooching off their CELEBRITY! relative back in the Roaring Twenties.


The reason that the Cyrus photos are sexual has nothing to do with the amount of skin she is showing, people. It has to do with the tousled hair, the "I'm ready to be used" stare, and the implied nudity under a bed sheet. Its the situation that the photo implies not the lack of clothing that is sexual about this picture.

Katie Gillet

With sculpture or painting, there are a few things to consider.
One, it's how that particular artist saw the model- not the very accurate and impersonal camera.
Two, in many cases both artist and model are long dead, so we're far more looking at, say, Venus, than the woman who posed.
Three, there's the story being told to consider as well. The photogrpahs of Miley imply or tell a story that she's ready for or has just done something sexual and immodest. Botticelli's Venus is a birth (even though Venus was born as a woman...figure out that vagary of ancient mythology!) A picture of Eve would show a woman before the Fall, going about theire business in the garden. The statue called "The Discus Thrower" portrays sport the way it was conducted then and there; its current equivalent would be a man wearing a uniform and winding up to pitch a baseball or throw a basket. Bathsheba would be somewhere between sexual and not sexual because she was taking a bath when David was watching her....

As far as pictures of very small children/babies, the line of when it becomes inappropriate to have opposite-sex parents see them naked or to take a baby-in-the-bath picture is (by rule of thumb) when they get closer to toilet-trained than not. A three-year-old who's being stubborn about the toilet is too old for being seen; a child not yet two who's beginning to use the potty is still okay to have the other sex parent change diapers and give baths.

Luthor Rex

Anyone want to start taking bets on her becoming a coke-head and having several meltdowns?



Ms. Gillett--

One, I think in some cases we're talking past each other, especially on point (3) since we drew similar age lines (three years old for both of us). But regarding the "impersonal camera", I have to disagree. The framing of a portrait and the darkroom development does a lot to its presentation. What if the offending picture were full color or sepia tone? High glow? Softened edges with low contrast? Photography is a lot more involved than most seem to think, and so I hold Leibovitz responsible for her presentation of Miley. And I'm not entirely sure there is a story being told--the pose and minimal make-up is quite classic in terms of fashion photography, and it may be just that: a classic look Leibovitz was attempting. In the end, though, her development and presentation corrupted that to the point of exploitation, epsecially when Miley herself claimed to be embarrased by it.

Regarding Venus, I was noting the Venus de Milo (the armless sculpture), not The Birth of Venus (the Botticelli painting with a giant sea shell). But either way, the event being portrayed is related to, of course, Venus, the goddess of love and sexuality--and it is no mistake that these artistic presentations are alluring. The event is irrelevant given the subject, which is sex incarnate. Just so, the story being told by the Cyrus shoot is irrelevant given the subject, which is a fifteen-year-old girl. These pictures are unacceptable even if they were showing Miley going about her everyday business. Heck, for all we know, she doesn't wear pajamas--I know people who don't.

Luthor Rex--

I'll take that bet. I think Miley's response to this shoot show her to be well-grounded, and her relationship with her parents is considerably better than Lohan or Spears. Given this and her religious grounding ("In an interview with USA Today, Cyrus was quoted as saying her faith is 'the main thing' and is the reason why she works in Hollywood. When interviewed by Parade, she added that she attends church regularly with her family." cf. Wikipedia), I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.


I don't have a comment directly related to the Miley Cyrus photo shoot, but I recently saw a clip of the View where Elisabeth was holding up a pair of low-rise undergarments for toddlers! It was shocking that low-rise jeans are not being marketed to toddlers. Crazy. You raise some great points in your blog.


I read about how Native Americans believed the soul was captured in a photograph and they were opposed to being photographed. I think a photograph does capture the soul of a person as well, and it should not be misused and mishandled the way it is in pornography or even a demurely suggestive pose like Miley's semi-topless bedroom-like pose.


It is interesting how we (especially Americans) sexualize the nude body. I think that as an artist, we CAN see that there are different ways to portray the nude human figure in a non-sexual manner. It is a matter of cultural education and good judgment that we can restore the good image our Godly bodies (Imago Dei) of what the Creator called GOOD in the first chapter of Genesis.


I have not seen the Vanity Fair spread, but gather that Ann Liebowitz was the photographer. Urban lesbian intellectuals like her can be tone deaf to the sort of issues rightly raised in this blog.

No one should pose in less than full dress unless they can understand the emotional consequences for themselves, and the cultural messages they are sending. Hence erotic photography of models under age 21 should be illegal. We have to be especially sensitive to parents' exploiting the beauty of their adolescent daughters for money, and the hope of future success in show business and modelling.

A free society tolerates adult women who advocate nudism or the nude as an art form. But I have time only for those that do so after their 30th birthday and better yet, who are married and have raised children.


A) Miley is not nude in this picture, (see artistic nude , see implied nude) and all the US underage nudity bans specifically state that exposed female nipple and any genitalia cannot be displayed.

Even if her [behind] was showing it would fit well within the laws. (Citation needed)

B) The picture is tasteful, people have been very taboo about nudity on this forum even though the basic premise of the taboo is flawed: she's not nude.

C) It looks like another issue here is being comfortable with one's sexuality. Or that Miley was too young to be comfortable with her sexuality, and that it was her parent's and the photographer's fault that she became comfortable with her sexuality. Thats very silly if you think its a problem for someone to be comfortable with their sexuality.

D) Another issue is that people think it sends the wrong message to other 15 year olds: wait, what? What exactly is the message, something about 15 year olds posing nude? Any underage girl needs a parent present to do modelling and there is a federal ban on underage nudity (see A) again) that clearly defines exposed nipples and genitalia.

E) Nude art is cultural and it doesn't take a genius to see how hypocritical of it we are. The clearly underage nude women from classical greek/roman are always excused, which I have a problem with for consistency sake. Even looking at those statues for instance, the romans came in after a previous civilization and put leaves over some of the genitalia on some statues. One society cared, the next society didn't.

And for the record, I certainly do not advocate underage nudity. There is also none present here.


Sylvia's post just lead me to remember something from many years ago which has come back several times...that being, the Broadway show and later, the film, Gypsy. Here was a stage mother who lived out her fantasies through her two daughters: First Baby Jane and after she ran off with a background boy from her routine to marry, her older and "less pretty" sister, Gypsy RoseLee. And it didn't matter that Gypsy RoseLee became a stripper...she was a performer, making her mother happy and allowing her to finally feel beautiful instead of being one of sthe background "boy" dancers that she was made to be for so many years..."hiding" in the shadows of Baby Jane.

Was this really any different than what is going on today? It is just that much more prevalent and acceptable today than it was back then, that's all.


The poor thing. She wasn't old enough to understand the controversy her shoot would cause, and now the photograph's out - That's it. She can't do anything about it, and probably regrets it. Its a shame that the people running the shoot didn't realise what a discourtesy they were doing their subject. Now her reputation is ruined in the eyes of many. How irresponsible, exposing a young girl to such things at her age. People should take better care of young celebrities, especially when it comes to exposure.


Although I have not seen any of the Miley Sirus Pictures, I ran across this post when I was astounded to find out that Thora Birch was 16 years old when she was filmed fully frontally exposed from the wast up in the movie American Beauty. If you understand the characters you will understand why this shot was important for the movie, but why could the Director not have casted someone of age.

I have read many posts on this topic and I can see many different viewpoints. The one that stands out the most is " Beauty is in the mind of the beholder ". If the beholder is perverted then everyone dashes to protect the innocense of the child being victimized. If the beholder is an art scholar than everyone praises them for being able to respect and appreciate the beauty of the subject. I personally think I could view a photograph or artistically created video of a subject who is not 18 yet, without being sexually arroused, but as a corrections officer I can adimately express that we have 13 convicted sex offenders out of 98 inmates in our facility that could not. So I went down and asked them if they knew about the underage possing in American Beauty and every single one of them did, and then they told me about a multitude of other films with underage nudity in them. I was also not supprised they could tell me the names of all these films, there producers, directors and where to get the films Legally but could not tell me the name of our local congressman or senator.

This was not an issue and I fully understood the point of the Director when I did not know she was only 16 when the film was released. So why was I so upset and confussed by this disturbing information.

It is a social issue coplicated by an ethical issue and governed by a legal issue. I have found that you can rarely be Ethically, Morally and Legally correct while pleasing every aspect of society.

The outcome of this quest of information for me is to allow the masses to dictate the Legal viewpoint they support by following up with there legislators.

The comments to this entry are closed.