Late last week, 11-year-old Willow Smith proudly posted to her WhoSay account pictures of her newly shorn hair. To say that many folks flipped out would be a gross understatement. Commenters on blogs accused Willow of being too grown. They questioned her sexuality, blasted her famous parents, and implied that she is the next Lindsay Lohan, an attention-hungry ticking time bomb. Few and far between were the sensible souls who greeted her Big Chop with an appropriate “Eh… it’s hair.”

My thoughts? Lil’ Willow’s new hair is adorable. She looks like the spitting image of her father (in the most feminine way possible). Frankly, I prefer her close-cropped ‘do over the extensions and weaves she rocked to whip her hair back and forth throughout 2010.

And that’s one of the things that perplexes me about the outraged reactions to Willow’s new style. When this little girl was manipulating her hair texture to get it straight, or sewing, tracking, braiding or clipping in hair that used to belong to someone else, there was no outcry. Instead many folks just focused on the fact that her mother had allowed her to shave the sides.  

You do understand how crazy that is, right?

The frenzy around Willow’s haircut comes at a unique time for me. I’ve just spent three weeks traveling around South Africa, where Black girls with close-cut or even completely shaved heads are popular. And I mean popular like you see shaved heads in Johannesburg or Cape Town the way you see past-the-shoulder weaves in Atlanta or Hollywood. Women sport them, of course, and so do schoolgirls — and it’s no big deal. So even before I landed in the States Friday morning, just before all heck broke loose over Willow’s cut, I was already thinking about the extraordinary value Black women as a collective put on hair.

We outspend everyone maintaining our hair. We spend hours in shops getting it done. We avoid water, sex and exercise to maintain our do’s. We fear rain and humidity (not necessarily in that order). We hold on to bad ends to “keep length,” and we take a particular pride in keeping straight edges and having hair that moves and bounces (just like white girls’) when we walk. We put in braids — sew-in weaves, too — that destroy our natural hairlines because they’re so tight, and then pop aspirin to ease the pain. We pat our weaves, baby, ignoring that the itchiness can be a sign that our scalps aren’t as clean as they could be.

I’m glad that Willow hasn’t adopted our collective neurosis, considering she comes from a community that accepts the above-mentioned inconveniences as an acceptable price for beauty. Whether she shaved her head because her hair was damaged or just because she felt like it, I’m glad she had the confidence not to get her value all wrapped up in what grows out of her head. She is not her hair. You aren’t, either.   

What do you think of Willow Smith’s new haircut?

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

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