In the plot of Disney’s Hannah Montana, “Miley Stewart” (played by Miley Cyrus) becomes a famous pop star who uses the stage name “Hannah Montana.” Because we live in a world of inauthentic relationships, Miley goes to great lengths to disguise “Hannah Montana” in order to protect her true identity. The young girl worries that if everyone knew who she really is, they would like her only because of her fame.
Life seems to be imitating art in a twisted reversal of this plot line. Miley Cyrus appears to be wearing the disguise of a sexually liberated pop star, hiding the former, more modest version of her previous self, so that she can have it all while really having nothing at all. The world is witness to her shocking display at the VMA’s, in her new video, “Wrecking Ball,” and in a recent appearance on Saturday Night Live. Sadly, this may just be the beginning.
Sinead’s Motherly Appeal
Over the years we’ve all watched a number of child stars self-destruct while longing for them to have parents or other wise folks who might protect them from the exploitation inherent to the industry. Many of us were therefore pleasantly surprised by the recent open letter to Cyrus by singer Sinead O’Connor. In her “motherly” appeal, O’Connor pleads for Cyrus to take another look at who she is becoming and who is profiting from her new pop persona. O’Connor writes “in the spirit of motherliness and with love” as someone who has been in her shoes:
I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way “cool” to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping. . . .
You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals. . . .
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal.
If you read the whole letter you’ll find coarse language as well as many statements where we as Christians would not fully agree. But we can all embrace the central claims made by O’Connor—that Cyrus is being exploited, that she has placed herself in a dangerous situation, that young women ought to protected, that she ought not be objectified. These truths reflect our understanding that human dignity resides in having been created in the image of God, which means we are to be valued above all earthly values—including the greed and sexually depraved vision of a godless industry.
O’Connor rightly says that we must not encourage immodesty with our daughters because they may become the “prey of animals,” those who exist to fulfill their own self-serving desires. O’Connor reflects wisdom gained from her experience. She explains that “nakedness” is the industry’s means to fulfilling their financial ambitions—and the reason she chose her own unique look.
The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were [sic] encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice.
O’Connor has taken some heat from women—including from Cyrus herself—and this open letter has since been removed from her website. But I think as the church, we should be willing to point to this appeal to Cyrus as an example of sacrificial love from a woman who has been viewed as a mentor and now seeks to function in that way.
Cost of Mentoring
Even further, we should recognize the cost of speaking truth into someone’s life. It may mean that we are brutalized for being counter-cultural. It may lead to the functional end of a relationship. Or it may lead to an immediate blessing in the life of a woman who needed to hear that truth. Titus 2 calls women to risk everything for the sake of the gospel and to be godly examples to younger women, and for younger women to seek their wisdom. Our words should be grace-filled, patient, and firmly rooted in the Word of God.
As for Miley Cyrus, we can pray for godly influences that can help reroute her toward a journey that honors God while using her obvious talents. Her life is worth far more than what the industry will gain in profits.
But the truth is, Miley isn’t the only one who needs mentoring. We all need the teaching and encouragement from those who have gone before us and have walked in a similar pair of shoes. Ultimately, the trials and struggles of younger women are not all that different from the older women around them. Wherever we are, we’ve been called to live as Christ lived—a life of humility and sacrifice—and to encourage the same in the lives of others.