Miley Cyrus: The Wrecking Ball of Mill’s Conformity vs. Individuality

Choices are something we are faced with every day in our lives. People choose to act a certain way either to conform to societies expectations and customs or stand out as an individual. According to John Stuart Mill, it is essential that we explore our individuality rather than immediately conforming to societies customs. Mill argues that although people should be trained by their elders when they are children in what is acceptable behavior and what is not, they should also have the freedom as they mature to interpret the world with their own ideas and opinions. But when does someone’s individuality become reason for judgment or isolation from the rest of society? Is there such a point where someone can be too much of an individual?

Take Miley Cyrus for instance. Miley encompasses both sides to Mill’s theory as she has acted as both a conformist and an individual throughout her life. As a young teenager, Miley conformed to the customs of being a regular child despite her fame. She followed the rules and kept her image clean as she chose to fit the mold of what people expected from her rather than doing what she wanted. She didn’t do drugs and she listened to what her advisors told her to do. Mill would argue that she was not using her complete human faculty, as she excercised no decision-making.

This picture of Miley is from the 38th People's Choice Awards.
This picture of Miley is from the 38th People’s Choice Awards.

However, as Miley has matured it has become extremely evident to society that she is no longer conforming to societies customs and expectations. She has exercised her individuality just as Mill would like her to do. Miley routinely sports very skimpy outfits to award shows and parties many times just to spark controversy amongst the media. Miley chooses to do this because she has decided to act as an individual. In society, it is expected for celebrities to set the gold standard for how we are suppose to act. Celebrities are held to a different standard because they are portrayed in the spotlight constantly. However, just as Mill would have wanted, Miley acts how she wants rather than what society wants. She does not concern herself with “fitting in” to a social group or being “accepted” by others, she does what makes her happy and what makes her different from everyone around her.

Miley at the Tampa, Florida Jingle Ball.
Miley at the Tampa, Florida Jingle Ball.

Although Mill would enjoy Miley’s individualism and her desire to not conform, there is a possibility he would not agree because of the impact it has on the public. Mill believes that people’s actions should be free from criticism unless they cause a nuisance to other people. When Miley is seen doing drugs and wearing the clothes she does, millions of fans around the world believe that this behavior is acceptable. Parents now have to deal with explaining to their children that Miley is not an acceptable role model. For this, Mill would probably tell Miley to tone it down a bit.

Miley Cyrus is the perfect example of someone who exhibits Mill’s ideas of individuality and conformity. She has experienced both, and it has become evident to most that Miley prefers being an individual rather than a conformist. I guess Miley the individual told Miley the conformist her show was over.


3 thoughts on “Miley Cyrus: The Wrecking Ball of Mill’s Conformity vs. Individuality

  1. Miley’s transition is interesting because of her status as a “role model” and her presence in mainstream media and culture. While she has certainly turned away from Disney Channel cookie-cutter conformity, she still has a strong fan base that has been adversely affected by her actions. However, were these affects enough to constitute harm in Mill’s opinion? Not only are her “individual vices” reaching the eyes of young children, but some of her actions have insulted and appropriated cultures. Do these actions have a lasting harm on others? Can we make laws that ban cultural appropriation? That abridge the individual liberties of those in the public sphere to protect those in the public sphere? These are questions that we would have to answer to determine Mill’s position on Miley’s transition.


  2. This is an extremely interesting post. Miley is a great example to use when explaining Mill’s concept of individuality. I find it interesting that if it were someone who was not as famous, it would be clear that Mill would support their individuality. But because of the fact that Miley became a role model to so many young people, her actions have lasting effects. In Mill’s view, would different rules apply because she is famous? Don’t celebrities deserve the same treatment as everyone else and don’t they deserve the same rights to individuality?


  3. This is a unique take on the concept of Individualism, and using Miley to showcase Mill’s theory works perfectly. Though the media and many adults criticize Miley for not being a proper role model, she is simply choosing not to conform to the expectations of society. Her behavior and outfits may be a little extreme, but Miley is definitely an example of how Mill wants people in society. She conformed to society when she was young to learn the values of her parents and the public, and as she became an adult she made a choice to break from the norm and develop her own ideas as an individual.


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