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Choosing Our Role Models, and Letting Them Go

Life is constantly changing. Situations change, attitudes change, and people change. We tell ourselves that change is a good thing, and it often is. But sometimes, change can occur for the worse.

When I was younger, I used to love watching Hannah Montana on television. The lead character, played by Miley Cyrus, lived a double life as pop sensation Hannah Montana. Cyrus had so many fans, so many young not-yet-teenagers who looked up to her. I remember going to see her in concert when I was in fourth grade. It was one of the highlights of my year. Cyrus sang about her old blue jeans and told the audience how lucky she felt to be where she was. It seemed like she had it all: before she was even a teenager, she starred in her own television show and headlined sold-out concerts. She was a person I looked up to, a person whom I aspired to be like. I could never have guessed how much things would change.

In 2008, when Miley Cyrus was 16 years old, she appeared in a nearly naked photograph in magazine Vanity Fair. The image portrays Cyrus clutching a blanket to her chest, staring seductively at the camera as her hair blows around her face. When the image was released, it caused an uproar from her fans—more specifically, her fans’ parents. Cyrus’s mother and father had been with her when the photo was taken, which further infuriated the already angry crowd. Did her parents encourage her to do that photo shoot?  I was nine years old at the time, and I remember feeling appalled and a little bit confused by press about her at the time.

In 2010, Cyrus changed her image even more, and let her fans know that she was “growing up.” The music video for her song “Can’t Be Tamed” was released when she was 18, and it proposed a drastically different view of the sweet southern girl her fans had come to love. The video features Cyrus dancing and singing from inside a giant bird’s cage, wearing a black leotard and knee-high boots. The lyrics alone are a bit risqué: “Every guy, everywhere/just gives me mad attention” and “I go through guys like money.”

Cyrus’s recent world tour, “Bangerz” opened with Cyrus flying in on a giant hot dog. I’m not kidding. A hot dog. The girl who once starred in my favorite childhood TV series now smokes cigarettes and wears ridiculously revealing outfits to parties. Miley Cyrus is not someone whom I look up to anymore.

There is a way to do what Miley Cyrus attempted to do—grow up without losing popularity—in a way that preserves an artist’s integrity and virtue. Another one of my childhood heroes, Emma Watson, is a perfect example of someone who grew up on camera while maintaining her dignity. Like Cyrus, Watson changed her physical appearance (with a short, edgy haircut) and began acting like an adult, adopting a sophisticated wardrobe and taking on more mature roles in movies. Through all of these changes, I still feel proud to call Emma Watson one of my role models. She uses her fame to raise global awareness of gender equality, and is currently a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.

People change. Stars change. Fans change. While every person, artist or not, has a right to individual self-expression as he or she grows up, we, fans, also have the right—and even the responsibility—to reassess whom we choose to admire as we grow up. Miley Cyrus has indeed, grown up—she has grown up and grown out of her role as a leader and role model for me. And while I can’t control the choices she made as she became an adult, I can take responsibility for the choices I make and stars I choose to admire as I enter my early years of adulthood. 

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3 Comments

I remember going to the concert with you! My 3 girls knew every word to every song. Miley was so cute and we loved how she did half the concert as Miley, and half as Hannah Montana. We were so impressed how she dressed so appropriately for the young audience. I wonder,how,much pressure the people around her were forcing her into the "cute Disney" star, and if she really wanted to break free from that, even back then. I think we have to be very careful who we choose to admire. Stars who are young don't even know who they are yet (Miley Cyrus or Hannah Montana). How can we admire them? To quote Hannah Montana, "Nobody's perfect."

See my niece's new blog post on the collapse of Miley Cyrus the role model for young girls. The 60's spawned that great old slogan that "the times, they are a changin'. People change too. And maybe Miley will change once again and re-emerge like the Phoenix in Harry Potter and be worth admiring for righteous reasons. My dad also has said you have friends at different times and different places. And maybe Eliana you've changed too and simply outgrown the need for Miley's in your life, whatever their garb.

So sad these young stars are so misguided! Good article, Eliana.

Miley Cyrus Performs at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, September 14, 2009
Full image
Miley Cyrus performs at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon, September 14, 2009.
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How to cite this page

Melmed, Eliana. "Choosing Our Role Models, and Letting Them Go." 14 April 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 13, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/choosing-our-role-models-and-letting-them-go>.

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