Moving through McCarran International in Las Vegas the week last I spotted a full-size blow up of Mylie Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, and thought “uh oh. she’s getting close.” To clearing puberty that is.
I resisted the impulse to tweet “when will Hannah Montana jump the hymen?” because I thought it was too crass. I didn't want to talk about my little niece's idol that way.
I think too I avoided it because I was still trying to process disturbing news received earlier in the week that an old co-worker had received sentencing (a hefty one) for raping a girl under 14. So questions of emergent and divergent sexuality were unsettling me entirely too much.
Returning home to the paper on Monday morning I found that Cyrus had already made that perilous leap from girl to woman: posing for Annie Leibowitz in satin sheets and tousled hair in a Vanity Fair spread that seemed to greatly upset all the parents on my trajectory to Ann Arbor later that same day. They were all talking about it. Unhappy about it. (Notably: Vanity Fair has chosen to publish the shots of Mylie with her dad, Billy Ray. The video of the shoot does nothing to change my mind about the territory she’s currently moving through.)
The leap that Cyrus is navigating, like so many girl stars before her, is perilous because it’s wholly public, and created by someone else, just as her persona as Hannah has been controlled by her handlers for her adoring public. And that’s what struck me the most, thinking about Hannah and the girls who have gone before her (think Britney, who doesn’t understand why we don’t all love her anymore): we don’t have an easy way to graduate child stars into adulthood.
This is chiefly, I think, because we insist on black and white projections: you’re either a pair of sexless cheeks we want to pinch or a fine piece of ass (note the cheek allusion) we want to, well, I’m not thinking pinch.
Jodie Foster pulled off the transition from girl star to grown up actress well -- perhaps in part because she made her transition at Yale and came back to us all grown up. Maybe too because Foster is gay, and perhaps for that reason was more cautious about feeding her identity into the male-shaped fantasy of what we want our girls and women to be.
Mylie Cyrus did nothing that she wasn’t used to doing every working day: She trusted her handlers and submitted to the image making. It’s just the timing that’s all wrong: Mylie’s a young woman now, and, like a father who feels awkward and strange expressing his affection the same old way for his adolescent daughter who’s just sprouted breasts, none of us know how to make the transition easy without feeling entirely creeped out by how it makes us feel.