Willow Smith has been raised in a world that simultaneously forces a youngster to grow up too fast while it worships a state of perpetual youth. In this respect, the Hollywood culture can be confusing. In Hollywood it seems that it is not enough to be young when young and child stars have many additional demands placed on them. For example, it is also expected that individuals in similar situations to Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s daughter Willow, be attractive but without being seen as overtly sexual. They are to be wholesome but visually stimulating as well. It is also not enough for these children to behave at the same level of maturity that their non-famous peers are allowed to, which is appropriate for their age level. They are exposed to people, places and experiences that young people in average America simply do not face. On top of all that, they have a judgmental and opinionated nation watching every move they make whether it is with a critical or adoring eye. Given the scrutiny Willow Smith has recently received, the young star might be wishing for a break from fame.
The recent picture of Smith at the Coachella Music Festival, fully clothed on a bed with long-time friend, Moises Arias, who happens to be shirtless, has caused a ridiculous stir. Yes, Arias is 20 years old and Smith is 13. Yes, they have been seen together before. Yes, America seems to have nothing better to do but worry about what all this could possibly mean. The primarily upset reactions to the photo say much more about our culture than about a teenage girl.
Telling her parents that they ought to be keeping a better eye on her is presumptuous at best. The young man is a friend of the family. There is a chance that he has proven to be quite protective of his young friend, who happens to be a girl. With the inherent confusion of growing up in Hollywood, Willow Smith should have protectors. The public has no clue what the nature of their relationship is and that is probably what has caused so many people to be in a speculative tizzy.
In March, another photo surfaced of the two friends leaving a restaurant. She has her arm draped over his shoulder. The point of her wearing a bikini top is moot as she is pretty much covered head to toe. They look happy to be in each other’s company. Good friends are hard to come by, especially in Hollywood.
Though chronologically Willow Smith is 13 years old, because of the circumstances of her upbringing she has a maturity that is beyond those years. According to her father, she turned down an opportunity to star in a remake of Annie last year, because she just wanted to be 12. She has recorded a song, Whip My Hair, which supposedly has mature content. However, lyrically-speaking, it is a song about a young girl with a lot of hair and attitude. The filter of “mature content” was put upon the song by adults and may not have been Willow’s intent at all.
There is a prevalent tendency on the part of the public to rush to incorrect conclusions when an answer is not readily available. Unless something actually inappropriate develops between Smith and Arias, perhaps the innocence of their friendship should be respected. For all girls like Willow Smith, growing up is confusing enough without every move, every wardrobe choice and every friendship being put under the microscope of Hollywood fame. Throw in the relentless paparazzi, enormous privilege and yet necessary isolation from the average day-to-day events that non-famous children participate in, and a better understanding of these young people is illuminated. The controversial photo of Smith and Arias is simply an unexplained black and white glimpse into that world and, despite their rush to judgment, clearly there are shades of gray that the public is not privy to.
Opinion by Stacy Lamy