Over the past year, Willow Smith, the 12-year-old daughter of Hollywood heavyweights Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith, has become as known for her constant hair changes as she is for her catchy-chorused songs. It started when Willow stopped “whipping” her box braids back and forth, then shaved the sides of her hair. The result was a rocker-friendly faux-hawk, which was widely decried as “too grown.” Months later, Dear Willow shaved her hair near-bald, to the chagrin of many. That look has been dyed pink, green, platinum blond and a varying assortment of other colors most commonly seen in rainbows. Not only were the cut and color derided as “inappropriate” for a then-11-year-old, but apparently Willow’s hair choices were also seen as indications that she was destined to become another out-of-control child star, that she wasn’t heterosexual, and finally that her parents weren’t raising “that child” “right.”
The brunt of the criticism was aimed at Mom Jada, since a girl’s hair is traditionally mother domain. After months of silence on this issue, Jada finally defended her daughter’s hairstyle choices via Facebook.
In a Thanksgiving message titled "A letter to a friend," Pinkett-Smith wrote, "This subject is old but I have never answered it in its entirety. And even with this post it will remain incomplete... Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It's also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother's deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be. More to come. Another day."
By burden of Blackness, Black hair sends messages, sometimes about heritage or socio-economic status, and beauty too. My fluffy ‘fro is some sign of self-love or rebellion, depending on who’s doing the viewing, and my hair straightened and mine, or weaved and bought, is a reflection of assimilation or maybe professionalism, again depending on perception. It’s something not to be touched by men, especially if just done. And middle-aged White women seem to be fascinated by what it does.
Making sure the message our hair sends is “right” is why we spend hours in salons, sometimes spending money we don’t have, to get our dos “done.” It’s why some of us will hold on to split ends to keep “length,” won’t be seen in an important place without a weave, still straighten our precious kinks for interviews, or worry about whether our natural hair will affect our dating options. And perhaps that’s why I’m looking forward to this “another day,” because Jada is onto something here, something that I wish more Black moms would jump onboard with so that so many Black girls can stop growing into Black women with hair issues.
After a long (and ongoing) battle with my family over choices I’ve made with my hair as an adult, I have declared my hair “just hair.” It took a lot of deconstructing to untie my beauty from what I had been taught about proper textures, attractive lengths and acceptable colors. Permed or natural, long or short, platinum blond or jet black, I finally view my constantly changing hair as an accessory to fit my mood or whatever style I feel like projecting at the moment. It was a long road to get (and stay) here. I applaud Jada for putting her daughter on the path less traveled, one that hopefully will lead to a daughter devoid of the hair hangups so many of us inherited.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk