Miley Cyrus Says Child Star Role Gave Her "Body Dysmorphia"
Starring on Hannah Montana resulted in some complicated feelings about her appearance.
Miley Cyrus made her way into the spotlight not long after being born to country-star-turned-actor, Billy Ray Cyrus. The middle child of five siblings, all of whom made their way into show business, she grew up in a family full of recording artists and actors. With all of this—plus Dolly Parton as her godmother—it wasn't surprising that Cyrus discovered a love of music and performing at a young age. Her breakout came when she landed the titular role on the Disney Channel sitcom Hannah Montana, which premiered in 2006 and quickly became "the most popular show among so-called tweens on basic cable television nearly every week," per The New York Times.
But becoming a star almost overnight didn't come without its downsides. Cyrus famously played two personas within the same character on the series: high school student Miley Stewart and teen singing sensation Hannah Montana. She's said that not only did the confusion seem to bleed into her own life, but the stress of carrying the Disney hit put too much on her shoulders. The former child star also shared that she believes that glamming up for the show and other appearances led to her experiencing "body dysmorphia." Read on to find out what else the now-30-year-old pop star has revealed about the struggles of her Disney days and how she coped with inner turmoil over her appearance.
Miley Cyrus began acting professionally at nine years old.
Cyrus, born Destiny Hope Cyrus, was raised by her parents in Tennessee until show business took her elsewhere. Her first onscreen role was in her dad's medical drama Doc when she was nine. According to a 2009 article in the Toronto Star, it was in the city where Doc was filming that Cyrus first declared that she wanted to be an artist. When they were in the audience of a Toronto performance of the musical Mamma Mia!, she grabbed her father's arm and said, "This is what I want to do, daddy. I want to be an actress." Two years after her TV debut, she appeared in a small part in the Tim Burton movie, Big Fish.
She became one of the most famous tweens in the world with Hannah Montana.
The budding actor's big break came in 2006, at the age of 13, when Hannah Montana began airing on the Disney Channel. The role gave Cyrus an opportunity to show off both her musical talent and her knack for comedy, as she played a girl living a double life, simultaneously managing a pop star career and a normal teen existence. The show also launched her own music career, with her first album, Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus, incorporating both songs from the show and Cyrus' music as a solo artist. Her first non-Hannah album Breakout followed the next year, and she's released six more studio albums since.
Cyrus said the show led to self-esteem issues.
Hannah Montana ran for four seasons, through March 2010. The story wrapped up in a feature film in 2011, when Cyrus was 16 and by which time her single "Party in the U.S.A" had become a massive mainstream hit. She seemed to already be successfully making the transition into a young adult career. But in Marie Claire profile four years later, Cyrus admitted that starring on Hannah Montana had had a detrimental effect on her self-image that she was still dealing with.
"From the time I was 11, it was, 'You're a pop star! That means you have to be blonde, and you have to have long hair, and you have to put on some glittery tight thing," she told the magazine in 2015. "I was told for so long what a girl is supposed to be from being on that show."
Even amid her Hannah fame, Cyrus seemed to be aware of the impossible standard she was being asked to live up to. "Beauty is the enemy," she said in her 2009 autobiography Miles to Go (via HuffPost). "We try to conquer not feeling beautiful all our lives. It's a battle that can't be won. There's no definition of beauty."
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Being turned into Hannah Montana daily left her questioning herself.
Cyrus wasn't just told what pop stars are supposed to look like—she was transformed into that ideal daily. "Meanwhile, I'm this fragile little girl playing a 16-year-old in a wig and a ton of makeup," she told Marie Claire. "It was like Toddlers & Tiaras."
She continued, "I was made to look like someone that I wasn't, which probably caused some body dysmorphia because I had been made pretty every day for so long, and then when I wasn't on that show, it was like, Who the [expletive] am I?"
According to Psychology Today, "Body dysmorphic disorder is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder," and those suffering from it can become "overly preoccupied with what are perceived as gross imperfections in their appearance."
Even after Hannah Montana ended, promoting her albums meant endless photo shoots and public appearances for Cyrus, now looking like herself. She noted to Marie Claire that she was keenly aware whenever photos of her were digitally altered. "When you look at retouched, perfect photos, you feel like [expletive]," she said. "Even when I get stuck on Instagram wondering, Why don't I look like that? It's a total bummer. It's crazy what people have decided we're all supposed to be."
She came out of the experience intent on being an individual.
Anyone paying attention to pop culture knows that Cyrus defiantly pushed back on the idea that she was only her Disney persona as her music career took off. She's deliberately pushed boundaries, including in her music videos, like when she appeared unclothed in the clip for "Wrecking Ball," and in live performances, like her infamous twerking at the Video Music Awards with Robin Thicke. She came out as pansexual in 2016 and, though she is now sober, was candid about her use of substances.
Cyrus has also made peace with her picture-perfect family sitcom past. Speaking to NPR in 2017, she said, "I'm not afraid of who I used to be." And she's more focused on having a positive impact on the world than she is on how she's perceived. "I'm doing what I need to do. I'm working in my community," the former child star said. "I'm changing the way people view sexuality. I'm working with suicide prevention programs. I'm feeding people that don't have food to eat. I'm doing my part as a human."
She even recently returned to her roots with the premiere of her Disney+ special Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions), featuring songs from her new album.