Miley Cyrus and the Problem of Girls Growing Up

13/10/2013 18:22 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

When Miley Cyrus appeared on Saturday Night Live announcing that Hannah Montana had been 'murdered', she wasn't exactly joking. In the past few months we've had the image of Miley, the all-American girl, whose face used to adorn so many lunch-boxes, replaced forever. Now the Miley that everyone's come to recognise is one who gyrates with a Teddy bear whilst her tongue hangs out. Yes, call off the search for Hannah Montana, she is well and truly gone.

This new Miley, for better or worse, has gained attention and it doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. Last week she gained an unlikely, though critical, pen pal in Sinead O'Connor. The Irish singer used a series of open letters to warn Miley not to let the music business make a prostitute out of her, and then went so far as to brand her 'a danger to women.'

Sinead's criticisms of Miley and her warnings are very much justified. But the problem is far bigger than Miley Cyrus. Even though she's baring the brunt of the scrutiny for the over sexualisation of female pop stars, Miley is not the first, nor will she be the last female star whose desperation to 'grow up' leads them down the least tasteful path possible. Her transformation from teen queen into X-rated pop vixen has taken an altogether too familiar route. A few raunchy live performances, a lot less clothing and the token photo shoot with Terry Richardson, is something we've all seen before.

Before Miley, Drew Barrymore had a very well documented, unsteady transition into adult stardom. Apart from the problems she suffered with drugs and alcohol, her 'rebellious' period also included posing naked for Interview magazine as well as Playboy all before the age of twenty. Britney Spears too struggled under the media glare, and then there's Hollywood's favourite bad girl, Lindsay Lohan. The Lindsay of today bares almost no resemblance to the sweet teenager from Mean Girls. Much like Miley, she also went the way of a Terry Richardson photo shoot to help shed both her clothes and her teenaged image.

This idea of having to drastically change your image in order to 'grow up', seems to be exclusive to female stars. Whilst Zac Efron has recently come clean about his struggles with drugs, that is an altogether different problem; the High School Musical star was able to transition into a more adult role in the media without causing too many gasps. The same for Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliff, yes he stripped off in Equus, but that's quite different than if he had suddenly graced the cover of Playgirl.

Whilst male performers seem to be able to allow their talent to carry their career forward, girls like Miley seem to be afraid to, instead hiding behind 'shock tactics' to get attention. The music industry knows all too well of this fear and is happy to exploit young women who are going through a difficult transition and us them to make money and appeal to men. It's that odd paradox of the music being made to make teens spend their pocket money, but the promotion of the performers is designed purely to ignite male interest. Miley has said she knows exactly what she's doing and she's calling the shots, but really she's not. Ideas may be sold to her as being 'good for her career' or as helping her break free of a binding teenaged image, but really, Miley and others like her are being placed into an already well established mould that the music industry has for young female performers. Here all their insecurities and self doubts are exploited by those wishing to make money and what we're left with is a batch of hyper sexualised young women in the media who all claim they're simply, 'growing up'.

If it wasn't Miley Cyrus, causing us outrage it would have been another young female star. However distasteful or shocking her actions may seem she is not unusual nor is she an isolated case. If it was just Miley we could perhaps view her as an unrealistic caricature, someone whose persona is so out of touch with their peers that they hold no influence at all.

I do feel for Miley, it's not easy growing up and everyone has a time when they need a bit of reinvention, but sadly for her, like those before, there seems to be only one way for them to do it. Sex sells, it always has, but when Sinead told Miley she was being prostituted by the business, she wasn't wrong. What Miley needs to really ask herself is, 'would I need to do any of this if I was male?' Probably not. Right now she's having her 15 minutes and when the world tires of her it'll be time for the next young female performer to step up and cause a stir. Sadly by the time this happens Miley's twerking might just be a distant memory of more 'innocent' times.