Real-Life Disney Princess Exposed the Danger Line

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Peggy Orenstein broods on Disney's "safe" coming-of-age fairy tales for girls in this excerpt from her new book, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter." The line between "wholesome and whoresome," she finds, is too easily crossed.

(WOMENSENEWS)--The photograph captures its subject in that liminal space between girlhood and womanhood.

She sits naked, seemingly perched on an unseen bed, a satin sheet clasped to her chest as if caught by surprise. Her hair is tousled, her lipstick slightly mussed. Has she just woken up? If so, was she alone? She gazes at the viewer over one shoulder, her languorous eyes just a touch defiant.

In many ways, it is an artful portrait: the contrast between pale skin and dark hair; the sculptural folds of the sheet; the vulnerability of her emerging sexuality; the shock of her scarlet lips.

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Maybe if the girl had been older--say 18, rather than 15--or if she hadn't spent the previous two years positioning herself as the world's most responsible role model for 8 year olds (a Faustian, if lucrative, bargain), it might all have been perceived differently. But she wasn't. And she had.

The girl, of course, was Miley Cyrus, also known as Hannah Montana. Until the publication of that photo in the June 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, she had represented all that was good and pure and squeaky clean about Disney's intentions toward our daughters: the promise, begun in the Princess years, that if parents stuck with the brand--letting girls progress naturally from Cinderella to the Disney Channel divas with their TV shows, movie spin-offs, and music downloads--our daughters could enjoy pop culture without becoming pop tarts.

'Safe' Image Tarnished

Remember the in-house survey at Disney in which moms associated Princess with the word "safe"?

That is how we're meant to perceive the entire brand, from toddler to tween. Safe. Innocent. Protective. Sheltering.

So when that image blazed across the Internet, parents felt not only furious but betrayed. "Miley Cyrus is younger than my daughter!" railed one daddy blogger. A second wrote, "Holy Hell! What on earth were her parents thinking?" A mom fumed, "She is a child for God's sake," and another, referring to the Everest of available Hannah Montana gear, wryly quipped, "Bonfire anyone?"

Poor little rich girl! Miley was quoted in the accompanying article as saying she thought her semi-nudity was "really artsy. It wasn't in a skanky way." She then later had to backpedal hard, releasing a formal mea culpa to her fans: "I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen."

Still there was speculation: How premeditated was this "slip"? Was she apologizing all the way to the bank? Were Miley and her master-"minder" father, the country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, consciously trying to nudge the singer's image, to prepare her for the next step of her career?

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