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Miley Cyrus Says She Suffered an "Identity Crisis" Playing Hannah Montana

The star struggled to find herself after becoming huge on the Disney Channel.

For a child actor, embodying a character could be a confusing enough experience on its own. But portraying a character who has two separate identities herself is even more complicated, as Miley Cyrus will tell you. From age 13 to 18, she starred on the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana as Miley Stewart, a teenage girl who was also secretly a pop star called Hannah Montana. The show follows the character as she navigates both normal life as a teen and life as a famous celebrity. While she was playing a kid with an alter ego, Cyrus was also coming to terms with her own fame, which she said led to an "identity crisis." Read on to find out more.

RELATED: Miley Cyrus Says "There's So Much She Doesn't Remember" About Being a Child Star.

The storyline of the show mirrored Cyrus' own life.

In a 2021 interview with the podcast Rock This with Allison Hagendorf (via Teen Vogue), Cyrus opened up about how the Hannah Montana storyline changed her understanding of herself.

"Talk about an identity crisis," Cyrus said. "I was a character almost as often as I was myself. The concept of the show is that when you're this character, when you have this alter ego, you're valuable. You've got millions of fans, you're the biggest star in the world. Then the concept was that when I looked like myself … when I didn't have the wig on anymore, no one cared about me. I wasn't a star anymore."

The star added that the idea behind the show was "drilled into [her] head," which led her to think, "Like, without being Hannah Montana, no one cares about you."

She created another version of herself.

Miley Cyrus performing on "Today" in 2013
Debby Wong / Shutterstock

Because she embodied Hannah/Miley at a pivotal time in her life, Cyrus presented an exaggerated personality when she was in the spotlight. She called it a "characterized version" of herself, explaining, "I never created a character that wasn't me, but I was aware of how people saw me and I kind of played into it a little bit."

As noted by Teen Vogue, the period of her career that Cyrus was talking about was around 2013, when she was two years removed from Hannah Montana and in her early 20s. She was considered a controversial figure in pop culture and criticized for her outfits, her music and music videos, and for an infamous and highly sexualized MTV Video Music Awards performance.

RELATED: Former Child Star Danielle Fishel Says Exec Told Her He Had a Photo of Her in His Bedroom.

The show also led to body image issues.

Miley Cyrus at the 2006 Teen Choice Awards
Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

Speaking to Marie Claire in 2015, Cyrus said that being on Hannah Montana "probably caused some body dysmorphia" because she was confused about who she was and how she was supposed to look.

"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.' Meanwhile, I'm this fragile little girl playing a 16-year-old in a wig and a ton of makeup. It was like Toddlers & Tiaras," Cyrus shared.

When she wasn't in character for the show—as either Hannah Montana or Miley Stewart—she wasn't sure of her worth. "I was told for so long what a girl is supposed to be from being on that show," 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?"

She says she was judged too "harshly."

Miley Cyrus at the premiere of "Isn't It Romantic" in 2019
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Today, Cyrus is 31 years old, and she has reflected on her days as a child star in interviews and in a TikTok series called "Used to be Young," named after one of her singles.

Speaking to British Vogue for a May 2023 profile, Cyrus said of the backlash she received when she was younger, "I was creating attention for myself because I was dividing myself from a character I had played. Anyone, when you're 20 or 21, you have more to prove. 'I'm not my parents.' 'I am who I am.'" (Her parents are Tish Cyrus and country star Billy Ray Cyrus.)

The "Flowers" singer went on, "I carried some guilt and shame around myself for years because of how much controversy and upset I really caused. Now that I'm an adult, I realize how harshly I was judged. I was harshly judged as a child by adults and now, as an adult, I realize that I would never harshly judge a child."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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