NO DOUBT about it: The squeaky-clean image of Miley Cyrus, the 15-year-old star of Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel, has been sullied by the provocative photos taken for an upcoming issue of Vanity Fair magazine.
As cynical as it seems, though, we have to wonder if what looked for all the world like a blatant exercise in the sexualization of a wholesome young starlet wasn't also a perverse business judgment on the part of her show-biz parents, who reportedly were present at the photo shoot.
The picture of Miley in a little-too-intimate pose with her father, the 46-year-old country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, supports that suspicion.
But, hey, look at it from a dollar-decorated point of view. Idols of the preteen and teen set have a limited stage life, even if they're already billion-dollar properties. Pretty soon, they're ready to graduate from Mickey Mouse pajamas to satin sheets. And what better place for a would-be sex goddess to have a coming out party, if that's what it was, than through the lens of an edgy photographer such as Annie Leibovitz?
Also, Ms. Cyrus's after-the-fact claim of embarrassment at what she thought would be "artistic" photos sounded suspiciously like it came from a Hollywood agent's computer rather than the mouth of even a sophisticated 15-year-old.
We've seen this screenplay before. Actress Brooke Shields progressed from Pretty Baby, an R-rated 1978 flick about a child growing up in a New Orleans brothel, to underwater nudity in Blue Lagoon, to the sensuous "nothing comes between me and my Calvins" advertisements in 1980. She too was 15 then, and though the jeans ads seem almost quaint now, they were considered outrageous by many.
(Irony alert: Ms. Shields played Miley's mom in a 2007 episode of Hannah.)
Despite what seems to be the relentless - and routine - sexualization of young girls over the past couple of decades, we don't think most parents would want their 15-year-old daughters to be presented in public the way Miley is in Vanity Fair.
Standards change, to be sure, but the Cyrus family appears to be only too eager to throw away Miley's wholesome image and move on to the next level of show-business exposure for their daughter.
It makes us wonder whose interests are being considered in this case.