Last February, Joanna Coles, the new editor of Cosmopolitan, spent much of Fashion Week squiring around the magazine’s cover girl, Miley Cyrus. One night, as paparazzi hovered, Cyrus dismissed shock at her budding sexuality as largely a media fabrication. “I think it’s fun to read about,” she said, before adding that she didn’t think the public at large actually cared.
What a difference a few months can make.
In an image now seared in the minds of millions, the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana appeared in August at the MTV Video Music Awards, tongue out, twerking in a virtually nonexistent costume against the R&B singer Robin Thicke and sexualising the iconic foam finger. By the next morning, blogs and news networks were full of dissection and debate. On Today, Mika Brzezinski said, “There’s pushing the envelope and there’s porn; there’s raunchy porn that’s disgusting and disturbing.”
Meanwhile, in her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan called Cyrus lewd and “mindlessly vulgar”.
But to the editors of two of the largest women’s magazines in the US, Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar, and one of the Internet’s faster-growing pop culture websites, Hollywood Life, the pop singer is, if not a role model, at least intriguing to their young readers, one who has appeared on their covers and driven a huge chunk of their traffic.
To artists like Marilyn Minter, who is fond of pushing the envelope herself, Cyrus is also, in many ways, a victim of American society’s puritanical, even hypocritical attitude toward sex and nudity.
Minter said of Cyrus: “I think she’s being slut shamed, and slut shaming is not cool. All she was doing was what young girls do at the MTV awards. Britney Spears did it; Madonna did it.”
And in the weeks after the music awards, a growing chorus of female editors has begun to indicate a backlash against the Miley Cyrus backlash as well.
“I love Miley Cyrus,” Coles said. “I think she’s an artist and an entertainer. And she’s also a provocateur who has launched a conversation about female sexuality. Old people have always criticised the young for exploring their sexuality and enjoying