At Seventeen: How Is Miley Cyrus Supposed To Grow Up?

"I'm just at a certain place where I've changed a lot as a person," 17-year-old Miley Cyrus told Billboard in a recent interview, "I've grown up a lot, which everyone does." But not everyone grows up as publicly:

Cyrus has been famous since she was roughly 11-years-old, when she landed the lead on Disney's hit kids show, Hannah Montana. Since then, in a somewhat familiar Disney Girl pattern, Cyrus has branched out, releasing a few albums, starring in a few films, and now, with the release of her latest album, Can't Be Tamed, attempting to leave her super-wholesome Disney image behind in favor of a sexier, more adult persona. Cyrus' main goal as of late seems to be reminding people that Hannah Montana is over, and that she's not going to play that squeaky-clean part—on or off-screen—anymore.

Cyrus' recent foray into a more "adult" image has included skimpier stage outfits, a sexed-up music video for "Can't Be Tamed," and a few mini-scandals, including a weird pole-dance incident at last year's Kids Choice Awards, lap dancing at a wrap party, and last week's frenzy surrounding a "shocking" simulated lesbian kiss during a broadcast of Britain's Got Talent, which Cyrus herself dismissed as "ridiculous."

The more cynical among us (myself included, admittedly) have a tendency to view all of these "scandals" as a somewhat calculated means to both drum up some publicity and help separate the star from their previous public image; in the case of Disney Girls, as I wrote last year, this often involves a swing from one extreme to another, with young starlets moving from the pages of Tiger Beat to the cover of Maxim or FHM within a relatively short time period. When Miley's kiss controversy came up last week, one of the main complaints I kept seeing on the internet was how expected her behavior seemed to be, that it fit a pattern we'd already seen with Britney and Christina and Lindsay; a pattern that doesn't necessarily seem to end well.

But how IS Miley Cyrus supposed to be a 17-year-old popstar without changing a bit? Do we expect her to remain completely non-sexual simply because she played Hannah Montana on the Disney channel for so long? Do we expect her to carry on the image that she's still 12? Should her stage costumes still look like they were swiped from a very glitzy Limited Too? Consider how much you changed between 7th grade and your senior year of high school, not only in the way that you dressed, but in how you viewed the world and how you chose to express yourself. Regardless of how you feel about Cyrus' talent, you have to admit that her desire to change the way the public sees her is, on a much, much larger scale, quite similar to what most of us go through at 17, as we try to figure out how we are during that weird period when, as Britney would put it, you're not girl, but not yet a woman.

Perhaps much of the public's frustration with Cyrus' recent makeover comes from the crash-and-burn examples Disney's been putting out over the past 15 years or so, but that's more indicative of a problem with the Disney mode of branding, how they package these young girls as wholesome, virginal beacons of "goodness," which in turn, makes the public view these women as "bad" or "fallen" in a way when they dare to step out of the persona that was created for them during their formative years. Miley Cyrus might be annoying, and her recent stunts might cause more than a few people to roll their eyes, but above all, she's just a 17-year-old girl trying to figure it all out. A combination of good support from family and friends will certainly help determine whether Cyrus ends up spiraling out of control or if she keeps it altogether, but maybe instead of looking for the signs that she's doomed to child star oblivion, we should remember how rough life at 17 can be at times—even for a millionaire, I'm sure—and wish her luck.

Miley Cyrus, 16, Shows Off Her Pole Dancing Skills At The Teen Choice Awards [DailyMail]
Miley Cyrus: So You Think You Can Lap Dance? [TMZ]

Earlier: That's Enough, Disney Girls