The first time I saw Hannah Montana -- that Disney marketing juggernaut aimed at turning little girls into big consumers of cosmetics and clothes -- I was visiting my 11 year-old goddaughter Rosie who, along with two of her friends, was giving a little violin and piano concert to raise money for Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. (They raked in about $100.)
Afterwards, while the grown-ups sat around drinking wine and talking, I suddenly became aware of the girls behaving like zombies, mouths agape, transfixed by the TV.
It's a look many kids get when they're in front of the tube so that wasn't what hit me in particular. What did get me was how the girls reacted to the images on screen. They were moving their hips in a way that was, well, not particularly appropriate for that age.
Last Saturday afternoon, I babysat my seven year old niece. We were out in the garden, where she climbed on top of her little plastic slide. Suddenly it was a stage and she was Hannah Montana, performing for the crowds. She rocked and bopped and shimmied and shook and tossed her hair.
Well, I suppose it's no worse than wanting to be a fairy princess who hopes to marry the prince. At least being a rock star requires grit and independence.
As for the marketing, well, it's just become bigger. After all, after we went to see Disney's Cinderella when we were eight or so, my sister and I each got that Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo magic wand, a princess tiara plus dangerous high-heeled plastic ''glass'' slippers which probably are responsible for my chronic ankle problems today.
But we were not sexualized. Not like today's little girls are, wearing thongs and grown-up mall rat outfits.
Which leads me to today's treeware column on the whole Miley Cyrus brouhaha. I have added some links ...
Frankly, I think Miley Cyrus looks a lot better â and certainly more age appropriate â in that now controversial Annie Leibowitz photo for the June issue of Vanity Fair than she has in her last dozen or so red carpet appearances.
Consider her hair, makeup and outfits on the recent CMT Awards, for which she was a presenter. Apparently braless in two deeply cleaved gowns, teetering on peekaboo pumps, her makeup applied with a trowel, her eyebrows painted on as always, and I'll-bet-there-were-extensions-there bedroom hair â she didn't look a day under 31.
It's not as if her wholesome Hannah Montana brand â worth a billion this year, at least according to The New York Times â hasn't already been tainted.
The infamous Leibowitz photo, with her looking as if she might have just climbed out of the bath and into a sheet, is reminiscent of a Titian painting perhaps, or some other classic nude. It shows a beautiful young woman poised on the springboard to adulthood.
Yes, it's sexual.
But it's not sexualized.
And there's a big difference.
Unlike so many other recent images of Cyrus, as well as those of other young women who grow up in the celebrity spotlight, she is stripped bare of the art and the artifice of music videos and glossy magazines. Her gaze is direct, somewhat flirtatious, but not at all the stuff of the come-hither looks she has lately flashed at the camera.
This photo is as natural as we have ever seen her.
As for the sexy part, well, let's not kid ourselves. Raging hormones define adolescence. Teenagers probably think about sex more than adults do.
That's why high school is hell.
At least Cyrus isn't trussed up in Bratz-like skankwear, the kind so many little girls want to wear on Halloween.
What's more, many critics of the photo â notably Bonnie Fuller of Cosmopolitan and Star magazine fame â seem to have no problem at all condoning the use of starving teenage girls to model grown-up fashion.
That parents who are now protesting Cyrus's pose have not been concerned about what she has been projecting and promoting to date â rampant consumerism through the idea that girls should be all about their looks and clothes â is what is really disturbing.
In fact, the rest of the Vanity Fair layout is what should be attracting their ire.
Not only does she wear a cut-to-whoops and hiked-to-OMG Balmain dress, there is a particularly creeptacular photo of Cyrus lounging up against her father, the one-hit country music wonder Billy Ray. He denies being on set when the girl-in-a-sheet shot was taken â although other minders were present â but he makes no apology for posing like a dirty uncle with her.
Which he does all the time.
If you really want to see creepy, then hit the play button:
But then, Cyrus's trashy parents â who have spawned a number of children through various adulterous relationships â do the God talk thing a lot, which seems to give them a pass in the more conservative quarters of the U.S. of A.
Make no mistake: Cyrus Sr. knows how to extend the Miley franchise into the future. What we are now witnessing is his girl's metamorphosis â just as we saw Britney Spears' and Christina Aguilera's â from teen idol to pop tart.
As for the Disney company's statement that "a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines," it is to laugh. Its Hannah Montana juggernaut not only manipulates a 15-year-old â who has reportedly now been told to lay low â it exploits the three million girls aged 6 to 14 who watch the show, buy the records, pay for concert tickets and want the clothes.
If anybody needs protection, it's them.
But not from this photo, that's for sure.
As for what's happened to our young women, they're not the ones who can't say no.