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Miley Cyrus No Longer Apologizing for Controversial Magazine Shoot at 15

A 2008 Vanity Fair issue led to serious backlash for the child star.

In 2008, Miley Cyrus was a 15-year-old Disney Channel star when she landed the cover of Vanity Fair and was photographed by acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz. The photoshoot was a departure from the way audiences were used to seeing the child actor and singer on her show Hannah Montana, with its moody feel and a more grown-up makeup look. But the cover image in particular ignited a media scandal, as Cyrus posed with her back exposed, covering her front in what appears to be a satin sheet.

Amid the backlash, both Disney and Cyrus apologized, with the young star saying that she was "embarrassed" by the photograph. Years later, she took back the apology, telling her fans that she actually wasn't sorry for the shoot. Read on to find out more about the controversy and Cyrus' evolving take on it.

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

Cyrus said that she had made a "mistake" and Disney claimed she had been "manipulated."

Miley Cyrus on the cover of "Vanity Fair" in 2008
Vanity Fair

In 2008, People reported that Cyrus had issued an apology for both the Vanity Fair photos and a "series of playfully provocative" photos that circulated online around the same time.

"My goal in my music and my acting is always to make people happy," Cyrus said. "For Vanity Fair, I was so honored and thrilled to work with Annie [Leibovitz]. I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed." She added, "I will learn from my mistakes and trust my support team. My family and my faith will guide me through my life's journey."

Disney Channel said in a statement to People that "a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines."

Leibovitz defended her work.

Annie Leibovitz attends as Anna Wintour hosts Special Screening of "Living" in 2022
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

As reported by ABC News, Leibovitz defended her photographs in a statement released by Vanity Fair.

"I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted," she said. "Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful."

Additionally, a spokesperson for Vanity Fair and Leibovitz told The New York Times, "Miley's parents and/or minders were on the set all day. Since the photo was taken digitally, they saw it on the shoot and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait of Miley."

RELATED: Saved by the Bell Star Mark-Paul Gosselaar Calls Out "Morally Abhorrent" Storylines.

Cyrus rescinded her apology 10 years later.

Miley Cyrus at the 2018 Elton John AIDS Foundation Oscar Viewing Party
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

In 2018, Cyrus marked the tenth anniversary of the Vanity Fair piece by taking back her apology. On her Instagram Story and on Twitter, she posted a New York Post cover featuring the magazine photo with a large headline reading, "Miley's Shame." The subheading reads, "TV's 'Hannah' apologizes for near-nude pic."

"IM NOT SORRY," the former child star wrote in her post. "[Expletive] YOU #10YearsAgo."

RELATED: Former Child Star Says She Was Exposed to Hard Drugs on Set in New Interview.

She said it was "wrong" that she was shamed.

Cyrus looked back on the scandal during a 2018 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

"I think a lot of things have changed, and I think the conversation has changed a lot," the singer said. "Something that I really thought about was, sure, some people thought that I did something wrong in their eyes, but I think it was really wrong of someone to put on top of someone that this was my shame and that I should be ashamed of myself."

Cyrus said that she's pretty sure she apologized at the time because she was told to. "That's why I don't do what people tell me to anymore, because that idea sucked," she said.

"I think at that time, I just wanted this to go away," the star continued. "And I think I also was trying to balance and understand what being a role model is. And, to me, I think being a role model has been my free-spirited-ness and sometimes my unapologetic attitude for decisions that I feel comfortable with." She added that her little sister, Noah Cyrus, was on set taking photos with Leibovitz during the shoot. "There was nothing sexualized about this on set and it was everyone else's poisonous thoughts and minds that ended up turning this into something that it wasn't meant to be," Cyrus explained.

She now thinks the shoot was "brilliant."


Used To Be Young (Series) – PART 15

♬ Used To Be Young – Miley Cyrus

As part of her TikTok series "Used to Be Young"—which is named after her new single—Cyrus is looking back on various moments from her career, including the Vanity Fair photoshoot.

"Everyone knows the controversy of the photo, but they don't really know the behind the scenes, which is always much more meaningful," Cyrus says in the video posted in August 2023. "My little sister Noah was sitting on Annie's lap and actually pushing the button of the camera taking the pictures. My family was on set. And this was the first time I ever wore red lipstick, because Pati Dubroff, who did my makeup, thought that that would be another element that would divide me from Hannah Montana."

The "Flowers" singer continued, "This image of me is a complete opposite of the bubblegum pop star that I had been known for being, and that's what was so upsetting. But really brilliant choices looking back now from those people."

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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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