Hello everybody and welcome back to Common Culture! Today I want to talk about this picture of Willow Smith that’s going around. Yes, she’s in bed with a shirtless dude. Yes, that dude is Rico from Hannah Montana. Yes, he is twenty (seriously?!) and she’s thirteen (seriously?!). Sites have been blowing up with how inappropriate and wrong this picture is.
This seems to be a bit of an over exaggeration. I have a brother. I cannot count the number of shirtless friends-of-his that traversed my home during my childhood. They were often around me, they were my friends as much as his, and there was absolutely nothing inappropriate or sexual about it. I’m sure any of us have had situations like that, and could recognize this as a similar one.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. What I do want to talk about is Jada Pinkett-Smith’s response to the backlash over the picture: “Here’s the deal: There was nothing sexual about that picture or that situation. You guys are projecting your trash onto it, and you’re acting like covert pedophiles, and that’s not cool.”
Slowclap for Mama Smith.
An innocent picture picked apart by the media, conceptions and assumptions tossed all over it, and suddenly we have some new interpretation of how inappropriate Willow Smith’s relationship is with this guy? Why can’t we just let kids be kids? Like Jada said, it’s more creepy on the people who cannot look at this picture and see it for what it is, rather than immediately writing some weird child-sex fan fiction in their minds.
The Smith parents have always received criticism of their parenting styles. They don’t believe in punishment; they try to let their kids do what they want, and if they make poor decisions, the consequences will be punishment enough. They give them free reign over their body and appearances; Willow Smith is constantly seen with (and criticized for) her interesting and often changing hairstyles and clothing choices.
Will and Jada believe that they need to let their children be their own people as young as possible, grow into themselves as people early, young and strong. They want them to let them make their mistakes, and have the freedom to do so. They want them to feel that they are their own and the product of no one else. And who can really say that isn’t liberating or positive for a child? Sure, people will scoff at them for not grounding a kid when they’re out past curfew or when they have pink hair at age 10, but who are we really to judge? Do we have a chart with the stats of which methods work best? Doesn’t it depend on a plethora of circumstances?
I don’t know how to parent, but I like their theory. I think that people are constantly looking to judge anything that’s outside the norm or conceived as “inappropriate”, but the Smith kids seem completely fine to me – if anything, they seem to be particularly confident and strong-willed kids. And that doesn’t just happen on its own. That comes from – you got it – good parenting. Parenting that supports the children, allows them to grow and express themselves. And maybe allows them to hang out with a friend who isn’t wearing a shirt and doesn’t make a huge deal out of it because there wasn’t anything to make a big deal about.
As we wear down on the semester, I run out of ways to describe my perpetual puzzlement at how media works, but to be blunt on this one, I think the news outlets need to find real news to run before drawing outlandish conclusions with no reason to, especially involving children. It’s hard enough growing up, hard enough being in the spotlight, hard enough being the child whose upbringing is constantly being judged because of its nonconformity, when in fact it may be ingenious. We don’t need to add any extra difficulty. I think the Smith kids are fine, and are being raised with nothing but love and high hopes, so maybe it’s time to cool it on the ridiculous headlines.