"There's something about Miley Cyrus that elicits a strong reaction in people..."

Miley Cyrus on Cosmo coverThere's something about Miley Cyrus that elicits a strong reaction in people. Even in the days before her radical haircut and experimentation with salvia, something about Miley made people cry "slut." So much so that an artistic Annie Leibovitz photo taken for the cover of Vanity Fair in 2008 scandalized everyone from Disney on down. While a 15-year-old Cyrus understood that the topless photo "wasn't in a skanky way," parents were crying for Hannah Montana's cancelation. Now, five years later, Cyrus appears braless on a magazine cover once again, and, while popular opinion of the star has shifted slightly, the slut-shaming continues to rival the proclamations of love. 

At 20 years of age, Cyrus has reached a level of comfort in her own skin that far older women still strive to achieve. And, as evidenced by her 2010 album Can't Be Tamed, this is no recent development. After years of wearing revealing outfits and engaging in risqué behavior, Miley has successfully bucked her squeaky clean alter ego Hannah Montana and emerged as her own person — and a strong, opinionated, 
beautiful person at that. Because the thing about Cyrus is, for all her innuendo, she's never felt false. Whether she is running errands braless or making out with her older boyfriend, it has always been clear that Miley is just being Miley. And, furthermore, Cyrus' indiscretions never crossed the line from teenaged rebellion to criminal or dangerous behavior. So she's smoking a bong. So what? What 17-year-old isn't becoming familiar with weed? At least she doesn't have a DUI and isn't checking into rehab — the same can hardly be said for all of Disney's protégées. 

But despite the eyebrows that were raised in reaction to Cyrus' more questionable extracurricular activities, critiques of the young star have been focused on her sexuality. Cyrus, it has been decided, is a pouting, smoldering look-giving, cleavage-baring, ho bag — and she has been ever since she developed her womanly figure. Even though Cyrus rarely spoke about her relationships and hardly gallivanted about with a new boy every week, she somehow earned a reputation as a girl who got around. And it stuck. 

Cyrus has now been monogamous for four years and is happily engaged to Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth. In her interview with Cosmo for the magazine's March issue, Cyrus goes as far as to say, "Number one [in my life] is my relationship with Liam," and refers to him as her "hubby" (even though rumors of a secret marriage were quickly squashed). Cyrus is about as far from single and ready to mingle as you can get, and yet the cries of "slut" 

Selena Gomez sexy perfume adOn the other end of the spectrum is another Disney darling — the virgin to Cyrus' whore —Selena Gomez. Gomez's wardrobe on the red carpet and on stage rivals Cyrus' in skin exposure and yet not an eye is blinked. When Gomez wore a 
crop top and short skirt to the 2012 Kids' Choice Awards, fans called her "cute." But when Cyrus wore a similar style to the Hunger Games premiere, people were appalled. It seems Gomez can be as overtly sexual as she wishes — for further proof, look to the rather wet ad campaign she shot for her fragrance (right) and recall her steamy ocean make-out with ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber — and maintain her wholesome image, while Miley can't wear a bikini on the beach without earning finger wags. 

The difference between Cyrus and Gomez, I've decided, is the way in which they carry themselves. While Gomez punctuates her flirtations with a coquettish question mark, Cyrus isn't afraid to make declarative statements. Gomez is coy, while Cyrus is confident. And at the heart of it, Cyrus is a women who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to tell us. She is a woman in control of her body and life and that is terrifying to people. So the seventh grade name-calling persists. But Miley Cyrus is absolutely, definitively, not a slut — she's just being Miley. Can you handle that?