STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The star known to millions as Hannah Montana says she's embarrassed. Miley Cyrus is 15 years old, and she appears in Vanity Fair magazine wearing only a sheet. NPR's Kim Masters reports this is not the first time a Disney star's behavior has clashed with a carefully cultivated image.
KIM MASTERS: The pictures have set off a raging controversy, not just because Miley Cyrus is young, but because she's made a point of promoting a wholesome image, as in this scene from her hit show, "Hannah Montana."
(Soundbite of TV show, "Hannah Montana")
Ms. MILEY CYRUS (Actress, Singer): (as Hannah Montana) Listen guys, it's all my dad's fault. We had a deal. School always comes first, and if I can't get at least a B in Biology, the closest we're going to get Paris is (unintelligible).
MASTERS: Disney, the company behind Cyrus's show and merchandise and movies, has attacked Vanity Fair, saying, quote, "A situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines." Vanity Fair responded in a statement that the young star's parents and/or minders were on the set and saw a digital version of the photo and everyone thought it was a beautiful and natural portrait. One thing that seems clear is that Cyrus is in what you might call an awkward tween stage.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. CYRUS: (Singing) I've got a way of knowing when something is right.
MASTERS: On Allykatzz, the social networking site for girls 10 to 15, there are many posts with different takes on the photo spread. OMG, reads one. She is being way too mature for 15. Others say Cyrus was trying to show she's growing up. Denise Restuari runs Allykatzz and says reaction in the posts is mixed, but there is consensus on one point.
Ms. DENISE RESTUARI (Web Master, Allykatzz): That most the girls are saying that she's disappointing us or disappointing the younger girl because she's supposed to be a role model.
MASTERS: Restuari thinks the reaction to the pictures has been amplified because other provocative shots of Cyrus has turned up lately on the Internet, such as one where she flashes a lime green bra under her tank top. And the disappointment isn't just about Miley Cyrus.
Ms. RESTUARI: You're dealing with girls who, their hearts have been broken by Britney, by Lindsey, by the celebrities they loved.
MASTERS: Britney, Lindsey, and, of course, "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens, who's revealing photos made the rounds on the Internet. And that's leaving aside Nickelodeon's problem with Jamie Lynn Spears, star of "Zoey 101," pregnant at 16.
Ms. JOEY BARTOLOMEO (Senior Writer, Us Magazine): You have to sort of expect things are going to happen when you have these young women kind of getting older and doing more things that maybe aren't so G rated.
MASTERS: Joey Bartolomeo is a senior writer for Us Weekly Magazine. She says the middle-teens are tough for stars whose fans tend to be younger.
Ms. BARTOLOMEO: They're kind of outgrowing the 10-year-olds, but at the same time, those are their fans.
MASTERS: Bartolomeo thinks Cyrus may have gotten ahead of herself with the Vanity Fair photos, but she doesn't think they'll necessarily hurt her.
Ms. BARTOLOMEO: People are talking about her, which is a good thing. And people are maybe looking at her in a different light, and not like, oh, well, she's just this girl in the Disney Channel. So in a way, this could help her.
MASTERS: But to Denise Restuari, it seems too soon for Miley Cyrus to turn her back on the young girls who make up her fan base.
Ms. RESTUARI: So when you're making billions like she is and you're selling out concerts and you're doing everything, you really don't need the publicity right now. And I'm sitting there thinking, but why?
MASTERS: It's a safe bet that millions of Hannah Montana fans are asking the same question.
Kim Masters, NPR News.