Willow Smith, the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, has been making a lot of waves of late. She, or perhaps more accurately, a team of experienced PR and music professionals, have released a song and video called “I Whip My Hair.” It’s playing on local stations, showing up all over the internet, and is sparking a bit of conversation among my peers. So far, most of the feedback has been positive. Why so? Because for the first time in a long time, a little girl seems like just that. A girl. A very cool little girl.
When you watch the video or look at her pictures you might be struck by her partially shaved hair and colorful clothes. But you won’t be shocked by her lack of clothes or prematurely womanly appearance. And that has a lot of women exclaiming – finally! My daughter/cousin/friend/neighbor has a girl to look up to who isn’t using her sexuality to sell something. There’s been a lot of great work about this very thing (See APA Sexualization of Girls report). In fact, the oversexualization of young girls is so prevalent that just one example of a more age-appropriate presentation is hearlded as a victory. Finally, the good girls are winning!
But what is it that we’re winning? We can be proud that Willow isn’t prancing around in sexy adult clothes singing sexy adult songs. But what IS she doing?
When I watch the video I don’t see a nine year old girl. Though Willow’s face is small and babyish, I see a performer, someone whose movements and even personality emulate a young woman who is, at least, several years older. She’s surrounded by older girls, confident teens whose presence seems to validate Willow’s position as a cool girl. (Imagine if she was surrounded by eight year olds!). She dances in a classroom led by a “teacher” in skin tight pants who later writhes around on the floor as she “whips her hair.”
This is not kid stuff. This is cool girl stuff. She’s confident, stylish, in control. It could very well be Rhianna on the screen. And there it is. Willow’s presentation is neither sexual nor child-like.
The images I see depict an alternative script, one that’s available to emerging adult women undergoing the tricky process of developing a solid identity. But what about Willow? Are we, the viewers, agreeing that this is what nine year old girls are made of? Maybe, just maybe, it’s time that we take a step beyond the question of hypersexuality and begin define what it is we really want for our little girls.