Miley Cyrus, Lauren Bacall and a Teachable Moment

First things first: I’m not here to bash Miley Cyrus. I think it can be tremendously hard for any of us of the female sort to navigate the transition from girl to young woman, much less doing it with the whole world watching. But she has provided us with a teachable moment.

If you’ve been following developments in Syria or the attempts to address the issue of hunger at home instead of the really important news, Miley Cyrus (daughter of Billy Ray “Achy Breaky Heart” Cyrus and former Disney star) performed at the Video Music Awards the other night. I use the word perform loosely.

She emerged from the belly of a giant stuffed animal, wagging her tongue more than Michael Jordan in the playoffs. I couldn’t understand why her Depends were showing beneath her costume until she ripped the outer costume off to reveal and even skimpier one. She gyrated. She and performer Robin Thicke (whom I am old enough to confuse with Alan “Family Ties” Thicke and so stay bewildered – they are father and son) engaged in something apparently called twerking. It seems that my dog has been on the cutting edge of pop culture all this time and I just thought he was humping the bedspread.

One of the things that was sad to me about the whole exhibition was that it was obvious that she was trying so hard to be sexy.. and there was nothing sexy about it. It made me think of a great scene between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not.” Bacall, fully clothed, banters with Bogart. 

She’s cool, but man, is she sexy. She doesn’t gyrate her hips or waggle her tongue. She leans over and kisses him. 

“What’d you do that for?” a suprised Bogie asks.

“Been wondering  if I liked it.”

“What’s the decision?”

“I don’t know yet.” She kisses him again. “It’s even better when you help,” she says casually, walking away.

As she’s walking out the door, she says, “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing… Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? Just put your lips together and blow.”

There are no words in this dialogue that a six year old couldn’t be exposed to. But it’s steamy. It is undeniably sexy.

What we saw at the VMAs is what happens when we confuse sexiness and sexuality with hormones. Hormones are two dogs humping each other. Sexiness and sexuality…. well that’s a whole different experience. It’s the whole of our Selves: our minds, our bodies (and more than our genitals), our hearts, our energy. 

What was masquerading as sexy on the VMAs was a cheap polyester suit. Real sexuality is a custom tailored outfit made of the finest cloth.

Too often what gets passed off as sexiness is a cheap imitation of the real thing. I don’t blame the kids who are doing it. I think the responsibility is with those of us who haven’t taught kids any better.

We have not taught what it means to respect your body. We haven’t taught what it means to celebrate, appreciate and respect your sexuality. “Just say no” doesn’t cut it. Neither does teaching “sex is ugly and dirty and you should save it for the one you love.”

Mostly, I think the church has fallen down. Even though Christianity is an incarnational faith, our central belief being that God became flesh, we’ve been awfully uncomfortable with the whole notion of having a body. And God forbid, having a body that is also sexual. 

We worship a God who was daring enough to become flesh and bone as we are flesh and bone. The sad irony is that in many parts of the country Christians are the most unfit and unhealthy, the ones who have taken least care of our bodies.

In the clip from the movie, Bacall offers Bogie thirty dollars to help him out. Bogie is surprised that she had the money. “It’s boat fare or any other kind of fare,” she says. “Just enough so that I can say no if I want to.

Miley seemed sad and desperate to me the other night. Bacall, in this role, is powerful. She’s strong. And she’s sexy. She doesn’t need to rip off her clothes to prove it to us.

May we raise daughters and sons who can stand in their own power and be fully in their bodies, who may treat themselves as well as others with respect.



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