Miley Cyrus isn't the squeaky clean teen she used to be—but isn't that what happens when you grow up? The 21-year-old singer covers Elle's Women in Music issue, where she opens up about her former fiancé, Liam Hemsworth, and revamping her image after leaving Disney Channel's Hannah Montana.
"You know, I'm really thankful that I started on Disney. I got the most intense training," she says. "There's times where I wish I could have just started as a new artist, but the world has kind of allowed me to do that."
While some of her peers struggled to create new identities, Cyrus had the opposite experience.
"I feel really lucky—a lot of kid stars get all crazy or stuck in what they were, so they can't actually become what they're meant to be," the single pop star explains. "When I went through a really intense breakup—you know, I was engaged—and when I was with him or when I was on Disney, the thing that gave me the most anxiety was not knowing what to do with myself when Disney wasn't there to carry me anymore or if I didn't have him. And now I'm free of both of those things, and I'm fine. Like, I lay in bed at night by myself and I'm totally okay, and that's so much stronger than the person three years ago, who would have thought they would have died if they didn't have a boyfriend."
Though many have criticized the "Wrecking Ball" singer's hypersexual persona, Cyrus insists she really is a feminist. "I'm just about equality, period. It's not like, I'm a woman, women should be in charge! I just want there to be equality for everybody," she says. "I still don't think we're there 100 percent. I mean, guy rappers grab their crotch all f--king day and have hos around them, but no one talks about it. But if I grab my crotch and I have hot model bitches around me, I'm degrading women? I'm a woman—I should be able to have girls around me! But I'm part of the evolution of that. I hope."
Cyrus is also a proponent of equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
"I have guys and girls that come out, and they're like, 'The only reason I'm able to admit that I'm gay is because you've made me feel like that's okay,'" she tells Elle. "That is so intense, because that is a part of this generation—it wasn't always accepted—and I feel like I am a big part of that change."
Cyrus has connected with her fans in other ways, too. "They know that I've struggled with depression, and that helped them get over theirs," the musician says. "That gives me a big purpose—a reason to wake up in the morning that's bigger than to put on my f--king feathers and my little outfits."