Shirley Temple, Miley Cyrus, and My Daughters

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Feb 25, 2014 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters |

On the day Shirley Temple died, my daughters and I spoke about her over the breakfast table. We were sad to see her go but knew she had lived a good life. Dying at the age of 85, after living an incredibly full life is not a bad thing.

“Shirley Temple died today and I really liked her,” Tess said. “Class act.”

“Now, there is a child star who didn’t die from an overdose or get all skanky like Miley Cyrus,” Emma said.

“You’re right,” I said. “She went on and did something meaningful with her life.”

“I think Miley will die of an overdose in some cheap hotel room,” Emma added.

“I think she will die by a wrecking ball,” Tess said.


But seriously, Shirley Temple’s life speaks for itself.

And so does Miley Cyrus’—or at least that’s what we think. As I tell my girls all the time, we think we know these people, but we don’t. But what we do know about Miley is that she’s a mixed bag of wasted potential and bad cliché.

When they were younger, my girls loved the show “Hannah Montana,” which starred Miley Cyrus and her dad, Billy Ray. I liked the show, too, even though the premise was kind of silly, wherein a girl lives a double life. Nobody knows who she is except her best friend and family. She is superstar “Hannah Montana” by night and a school girl who hangs out at the beach with her friends during the day. In the show, there was a lot of exploration of what it means to be famous—and what it doesn’t mean. I liked it because of the music and because Miley portrayed a good kid. Billy Ray played an attentive and involved father.

This prompts me to wonder where he is these days in the young star’s life.

Unfortunately, Miley has become quite the teen star cliche. We can see this coming from a distance—yet the people around her seem helpless about how to rescue her.  Now is the time for someone in her family or in her circle of friends to step up. Or is so she “powerful” that nobody has the guts to try to help?

The young star “drama” happens so much I think our culture has become jaded about it even when it’s still deeply disturbing. I think of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Justin Bieber. Jail. Drugs. Bad relationships and bringing children into the mix.  I also think of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. The whole fame at young age thing often leads to tragedy. With Miley, there have been drug arrests, films of her doing lap dances, the horrible music award fiasco, and so on.

My daughters and I watched her latest video together, and Tess said, “That’s so disappointing.” It was great hearing that from my 12-year-old’s mouth.

Miley’s “new act” doesn’t seem to be an artistic exploration as much as it is a privileged young woman profiting from acting like a spoiled brat and flaunting that she can do whatever she wants. She’s also buying into the whole “I need to rebel because I had this sweet image” thing and wants her fans to think she is strong and sexy because of it. And yet it’s unsexy, weak, and seems incredibly fake and gratuitous.

I can see some people pointing their fingers and calling me a “slut-shamer.”  I want to be clear my attitude is not about that at all. I’m all for a young woman owning her sexuality, and I don’t even use the word slut when I talk about Miley. (In fact, I love some sexy female singers who strut their stuff–Madonna for one.) It’s not about the sex. It’s about the rest of it.

It’s about how precious this life is and how you can choose to make it matter or not. How if you are born into privilege, it makes the rest of us sick to see you squander it. Not just the money—but the opportunity to make a difference, even if that’s just by way of living a positive example. And what is she rebelling against anyway??

Do you know what would be rebellious for a 20 year-old superstar? To NOT go down that road. Like Shirley Temple. On that, my daughters and I quite happily agree. Shirley Temple, from a cute talented little girl, to a teen star, and then as a woman who served her country on an international scale, is a much better role model—not just for girls, but for all of us.

1 Comment

Donna Zimmerman
Feb 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

Well put, Molly. We just had a discussion with our 7YO about Justin Beiber and how he is a bad person for doing bad things with is life; making bad decisions. Your daughters are so lucky for the dialogues you engage them in.



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