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Dear Miley-

We don’t know each other, and it’s probably none of my business, but I can’t help wondering how confused you must feel right now. For the third time in a little over a year, half the world is treating you like you killed a puppy on live television, and the other half is defending your honor like you are their personal saint. I suspect you and I both know that neither perspective is particularly tethered to reality.

You’re 16. It’s a confusing age for all of us. Sexuality seems like the most thrilling and shiny new toy you’ve ever been given. Like you’ve discovered a secret world no adults could possibly understand. And they don’t seem to, do they?

Sure, sexuality can feel a little scary, like you’re driving a car and you’ve never had lessons. But it can be hard to let on that you’re scared, because hey – you’re driving a car. And it’s FUN.
Here’s what I want you to know: there’s nothing wrong with expressing your sexuality. As you already know, not a lot of people agree with me – when it comes to sex, our culture wants girls Disney-pure. If they’re not, they’re automaticaly sluts, and they deserve whatever kinds of abuse they get, because they "should have known better." Plus, if a girls is going to be a slut, we at least want to make a buck off of their slutty ways. And that’s what worries me when it comes to you, Miley. Because you’ve been famous since you were 12, and your father’s been famous since before you were born. People make money off of you when you get a coffee at Starbucks. So it’s pretty obvious that there’s a lot of money riding on the most minute choices you make about your sexuality. And that’s a lot of pressure when you’re driving a car and you’ve never had lessons. The kind of pressure that probably makes a confusing time in everyone’s life a LOT more confusing.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not just the folks who encouraged you to dance on an ice cream truck while holding onto what certainly looked like a stripper pole that you should worry about. Even the outraged folks who are pressuring you to be more pure are acting as if your sexuality is the most important thing about you. And it’s just not. Your heart, your work ethic, your efforts to make the world a better place, the way you treat your friends, family and fans, the way you treat total strangers – these are all much better barometers of your worthiness as a role model, as far as I’m concerned. But do they make headlines? Surely you know the answer to that question even better than I do.

What I wish for you is this: when it comes to your expressing your sexuality, do what feels right to you, independent of what other people may think or say. That means being honest with yourself when things feel scary, and backing off from them a little until they feel safer. It means not doing things just because they seem "edgy" or provocative, and not not doing things just because people will say mean things about you on the internet. That’s a hard balance to find for most 16-year olds (heck, it’s hard for most people, period), so I suspect it will be very near impossible for you. But I really hope you’ll try. Sure, you’ll still make decisions you regret later – who hasn’t? That’s part of how we all learn what works for us and what doesn’t, and it sucks that you have to do it so very much more publicly than the rest of us. But even when that happens, if you made those mistakes for your own reasons and not because someone else was pushing you into them, it will be so much easier to look back, cringe a little, and move on to more important things.

In other words, next time I see a picture of you in thigh-high leather boots, I’m going to be hoping real hard it’s because you liked how they look and how they make you feel, and not because someone told you they made you seem "grown up" because they knew it would sell magazines.

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