Mary or Miley? Who Should Our Daughters Admire?

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Miley Cyrus is up to her old tricks, kicking off a fundraising campaign for Planned Parenthood on social media by behaving badly. This time, it was posting a photo of herself licking a birthday cake that declared “Abortion IS Healthcare” along with a message laced with vulgar expletives which was sent to her millions of teen followers. Is this really who we want our teen girls to admire? Don’t we have a better role model for our daughters that might guide them toward a healthier lifestyle? 

As I read the news reports about Miley’s crass campaign, my heart went out to all the mothers and guardians of teen girls. Surely the majority don’t want their daughter to emulate such an undignified woman, but what other “hip” young women are there who can provide a better example for our girls?

Let’s start with Lila Rose, founder of LiveAction, one of the most influential grass roots pro-life movements in the country which she started at the tender age of 15. Then there’s Leah Darrow who gave up modeling after realizing how the industry was doing nothing more than exploiting women. Both of these stellar role models are featured in our Young Women of Grace Study along with the most outstanding example of all – the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through these women, girls learn that because they are a daughter of God, they have an inherent dignity that no one can take away from them, a beauty that is unaffected by fashion or the lack thereof. They learn that God gives them a genius all their own and charges them to use it to “save the peace of the world.”

At first glance, this might seem like nothing more than a lot of pious talk, but not according to the experts. They say this is exactly the kind of message that can help reverse the alarming trend of low self-esteem in teen girls.

Let me explain. As many of us are aware, today’s young girls are experiencing record-levels of depression, eating disorders, and suicide. Experts place much of the blame on the way women are portrayed in the media – as being worth little more than their looks and their clothes – which puts enormous pressure on them to achieve impossible standards of beauty. Whether they intend to or not, women like Miley Cyrus who dress the part with their pink hair, neon lipstick and plunging necklines designed to show off their surgically enhanced bodies only add more heat to this cultural pressure cooker.

Even worse are the mixed messages Cyrus and others like her are sending to girls. On one hand, they proclaim themselves to be icons of women’s rights while denouncing the #MeToo culture; but on the other hand, the way they dress, the loose morals they profess, the birth control and abortion they promote, are the very fuel that feeds the fire of the objectification that has proven so damaging to women. The Miley Cyruses of the world do nothing more than leave girls confused and disoriented about who they are and how they’re supposed to act. As a result, our girls’ self-esteem is in the pits.

What do we do about it? Mental health experts say one of the most important ways to combat this trend is to emphasize a girl’s intrinsic self-worth – take her mind off of viewing her body bodies as being so important and shifting the emphasis to other aspects of her personhood that remind her that she’s special not because of how she looks but because she is a unique and important human being.

This message resonates!

Having taught our Study to several classes and given numerous retreats to teens based on these uplifting themes, I never cease to be amazed by how profoundly girls are affected by message. Their faces light up, their expressions brighten, their body language turns from half-there to fully engaged. Why? Because our course and retreats are among the only places outside of the home where they hear themselves being described in such exalted terms. For so many girls, it’s almost a relief to learn that they have qualities that are more powerful than the number of their Instagram followers. Instead of feeling pressured to look like a super model, which only inspires them to take up fad diets and feel bad about their bodies, they’re challenged to focus on a whole other set of “gifts” that are naturally appealing to all of those altruistic dreams so typical of youth who aspire to make the world a better place.

These programs can work wonders but when it comes to turning the tide for our young women, there is no more important player than a mother or other adult woman they look up to. It’s up to us to lead our girls away from the damaging role models and introduce them to the real beauty of womanhood, the priceless gift of motherhood, the powerful force for good that authentic femininity can be in this world.

No one exemplified this more than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through our programs, we endeavor to introduce girls to the 15-year-old teen who gave up her personal plans and dreams to become the Mother of God. We help them to get to know Mary as a person, a friend, a helper and, most importantly, a role model. This teaching, coupled with the example of a mother or guardian who is devoted to Our Lady, can do much to counter the negative messages of the Miley Cyruses our girls are encountering on social media every day. Let’s face it, regardless of how rebellious and aloof a girl might seem during these difficult teen years, mothers are still a daughter’s prime role model, and Mary can be too.

In this day and age, mothers simply must do more to steer their daughters away from these destructive role models. Girls need examples who will introduce them to new ways of defining themselves rather than adopting the degrading definition thrust upon them by an immoral culture and its morally confused icons.

As we approach the great feast of Pentecost, let us ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us with the gift of fortitude so that we might have the courage to make a firm and intentioned choice about who will be the role model for our daughters – Mary or Miley.

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In addition to our Young Women of Grace Study, we are hosting retreats for teen girls in three cities this summer – Lafayette, Louisiana; Malvern, Pennsylvania; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Contact us at to find out how to bring these crucial programs to your area!

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