As host of the last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, Disney kid turned provocateur Miley Cyrus raised eyebrows with scads of costume changes. But this wasn’t your standard dress to impress Oscars moment, or even an escalating seduction ratcheted up by increasingly skimpy duds. Instead, it seemed Cyrus was toying with television censors, seeing how far she could push the line. And in doing so, Miley Cyrus was feminist as fuck.
Before we dig into last night’s fashions, let’s remember a past, less-revolutionary Cyrus from 2013’s VMAs.
Here she stripped down to a faux nude look to grind with a man old enough to be her dad, as skeezy Robin Thicke performed his arguably pro-rape-culture jam “Blurred Lines.” Sure, this was considered shocking, and earned both a lot of online mockery. But it was she who scored most of scorn. Thicke was just a crooning ladies man doing what they do (while dressed like Beetlejuice). Cyrus looked like a powerful pop star who willfully demoted herself to video vixen and sexual prop. It’s a double-standard, she herself has recognized.
Now on first glance, it might seem last night’s pre-show outfit was geared toward the same goal, namely “see me as a sex object.”
This first look was met with instant derision on Twitter. How dare she show such body-ody-ody. How dare she be so willfully tacky. But like her song goes, she can’t stop. She won’t stop.
Behold her ode to candy buttons:
Her nod to Mrs. Potato Head.
Her tribute to Fem-bots.
And her Little Mermaid gone rave kid.
See, it’s easy to mock these strange style choices.
But then, in one of her most modest looks of the night, Cyrus made herself a rainbow flag, not only speaking to her advocacy for LGBTQA rights and acceptance, but also making the point that her look and body are a message.
Cyrus has spoken out about how her Hanna Montana-era persona was out of her control, as well as how that’s inspired her to take control of it in her adulthood. While promoting her music, Cyrus has found a way to be brazenly feminist, challenging the patriarchy’s fear of the female form. Again and again last night, Cyrus bared her body in revealing numbers. But none of these played to our societal ideal of glamour or sex appeal.
She didn’t try to emphasize her cleavage, or attempt to make her small tits look big and bouncy in the way Hollywood so prefers. She didn’t dress to accentuate her curves. In fact, most of her looks revealed just how boyish her figure is. And despite displaying a body type that is not trending, she was radiant.
Cyrus wasn’t trying to get you off. She was urging you to look at her body and realize how shocking her appearance was because it dared to bare and be what it is. She showed all that TV would allow, covering her areolas in a way that was downright comical, satirizing society’s puritanical fear of lady nipples. She shaved completely to allow for as much display of her pelvis as possible (can you imagine if pubes made it on prime time?!), even donning a camel-toe flaunting one-piece.
Some will write this all off as bad fashion or a crass bid for attention. But Cyrus is too savvy for that, like she said to Marie Clare earlier this year,
“I’m probably never going to be the face of a traditional beauty company unless they want a weed-smoking, liberal-ass freak. But my dream was never to sell lip gloss. My dream is to save the world.”
When we talked about the recent Free The Nipple protests, we agreed that women feeling empowered by baring their breasts is commendable. And we argued that breasts need not always been seen in a sexual light. However, the reception of such protests is met with a bunch of leering dudes snapping pics on their phones, showing that the latter half of that message is often lost in a patriarchal culture that perceives all female nudity—even breastfeeding—as dangerously sexual. Well, Cyrus’s skin showing is asking: “What’s the big damn deal?”
She’s spurring a new wave of sexual revolution like Madonna did in the ’80s. By having such obvious fun with her body in a way that mocks the Male Gaze, she’s challenging society’s concept of women’s bodies. And to bring the point home, her final number was a bit of Yo Gabba Gabba gone burlesque, featuring just about every contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Here Cyrus was no sex toy for the patriarchy, no twerking video girl. She was electric with purpose with a ejaculating phallic symbol of her own and a lopsided costume that’s bust seemed to scream, “I see you creeping.” Plus, she was surrounded by an army with similar eyes that gaze back at the audience while these performers refuse to fit into our rigid gender demands.
Consider “Do It” her “Blurred Lines” redux.
I wonder how many people at home put together that these were all drag queens, moreover queens of every color and shape. Cyrus used this moment not only to promote a new album, but also to promote a new age where women can be empowered and sexual without being complacent with the male gaze, and where our gender divides could come crashing down.
She made a bid to change the world last night, though that might get lost amid the nip slip “scandal.”
Kristy Puchko is a wrecking ball.