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Miley Cyrus: A Blurred Red Line for Culture

09/11/2013 02:26 pm ET | Updated Nov 10, 2013

I've been tracking the reactions to Miley Cyrus's performance - some might use the term spectacle - at the MTV VMA Awards. Speaking of terms, the Oxford Dictionaries recently added the term "twerk" complete with historical etymology that included Cyrus's performance front and center in the explanation. Before the VMA Awards, only a segment of the population realized that "twerking" meant to "dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and low, squatting stance."

Twerking aside, what I was most interested to see was Cyrus herself explaining the thinking behind her VMA choices. Her thinking, according to her, involved not thinking. In an MTV interview, Cyrus admitted to: a) not paying attention to the negative reactions post-performance; b) wanting to make history, and; c) not thinking about what she was doing because "that's just me." She accused other people of "overthinking" her performance and admitted to the interviewer, "You're thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. Like, I didn't even think about it."

I find that hard to believe. This did not appear to me to be a thoughtless performance but, rather, a calculated gamble to, as she said, "make history." Rather than coming together without much thought, I think her performance was specifically designed to be edgy and provocative, a salvo blasted squarely across the bow of propriety and convention. Celebrities take such shots all the time and my concern with Cyrus regards collateral damage.

As a certified eating disorder specialist through the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP), I cringed when I saw what she did. Apparently, I was not alone, as the negative reaction Cyrus said she didn't pay attention to hit the Twitter feeds. I was appalled to see the trappings she chose for her "historic" performance - teddy bears, toys, Cyrus herself dressed up like she was going to some sort of techno-slumber party, complete with little hair nubbins and slipper-like shoes. Her hair, shoes and initial teddy-and-tongue bodysuit did not project an image of adult sophistication. Instead, it appeared to be a bizarre twisting of a child image.

Cyrus, as a sexed-out pre-pubescent, made me think of another disturbing picture; three-year-old Paisley strutting her stuff across a Toddlers and Tiaras stage dressed like Julia Roberts as the hooker in Pretty Woman. There is something definitely wrong with both of these pictures. One, an adult woman, pretending to be an under-age sex toy, and the other, an under-age child dressed up to look like a prostitute.

Enough. I am tired of watching fourteen-year-olds attempt to starve themselves to death in order to achieve acceptance. I am tired of watching fifteen-year-olds give up on life because they think they're too ugly to be loved. I am tired of watching children buckle the load of adult sexuality. I want Cyrus's performance to make history. In a time when the nation is contemplating red lines, I'd like her performance to act as a cultural red line. I would like us, as adults in this society, to say "Enough. Stop sexualizing our children."

Of course, to say things like "stop" and "enough," we risk sounding like parents. Parents also say things like, "think before you act" and "consider the consequences." The consequences of early sexualization rob our children of their innocence and their childhood. When are we going to take our own parental advice?

As I was reading reactions to Cyrus's performance, I caught an interesting refrain - from people who objected to what she did but were worried those objections might mean they had somehow become "old." I wonder how many people objected but said nothing out of that same fear. How sad if, as a society, we continue to force our children to grow up because we're afraid of growing old.