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Scarvey column: Hold the Tabasco, please

Sex, it’s been said, “is the Tabasco sauce which an adolescent national palate sprinkles on every course in the menu.” The course we’re increasingly adding heat to is teenage girls.
Miley Cyrus, the 15-year-old “Hannah Montana” star, is the latest willing dish, served up in recent Vanity Fair photos. The image drawing the most attention features a tousled and topless Miley holding a satin sheet to her chest.
Photographer Annie Leibovitz deems the picture “simple” and “beautiful” ó as if those would rule out other adjectives, such as “provocative” or “salacious.” Perhaps worse ó certainly creepier ó are photos of an unsmiling Miley, lounging on the ground with achy-breaky dad Billy Ray Cyrus.
Those photos came hot on the heels of ones posted on YouTube ó Miley staring into the camera with an “I’m sexy” look, pulling down her shirt to reveal her green bra, Miley draped on her boyfriend, belly exposed, boyfriend’s hand precariously low on her hip.
What came to mind when I saw that one was Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears, 16 and pregnant.
Parents understandably feel betrayed and angry to see Miley’s wholesome Disney persona sullied. One of their fears is this: Won’t it be harder, now that Miley’s sexy pictures are out there, to convince our daughters that such photos posted on MySpace or FaceBook are inappropriate and invite the wrong sort of attention?
Part of what parents are paying for when they fork over big bucks for Miley concert tickets is an inoculation against the toxic influence of all the Parises, Lindsays and Britneys. We should all be concerned that the sexualizing of young girls has caused some very bad things, including a one-in-four chance that teenage girls will contract a sexually transmitted disease.
At 15 or so, it’s probably natural for a girl to be exploring her inner pin-up girl ó but shouldn’t that happen alone in front of a bedroom mirror instead of for a camera, even if it is Annie Leibovitz’s?
For her part, a supposedly embarrassed Miley has apologized. Disney is embarrassed as well, saying that Miley was manipulated ó a statement that seems fairly disingenuous. Vanity Fair and Leibovitz have always been known for edgy photos, a fact that would not be lost on any public relations professional. Surely Disney has a few competent folks to help Miley protect her public image?
I’d like to give Miley a pass, at least on the magazine shots. Leibovitz is known for seductively working her subjects until they let their guard down. Remember the photo of a topless Debra Winger in bed with her German Shepherd?
Leibovitz can talk about beauty all she wants, but beauty seems to be incidental to what she really wants from a celebrity photo shoot.
Leibovitz says she’s sorry the photos were “misinterpreted.” (Translation: You unsophisticated people have dirty minds.) The fact is, she knows better than anyone that we don’t intellectually “interpret” visual images. We take them in, and they suggest what they suggest.
My advice? Next time Miley is photographed wearing a bedspread, let it be a Hannah Montana one, and let her be wearing flannel jammies.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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