We’ve seen enough Behind the Music, Unsung, where are they now specials to know that the story of the childhood entertainer often doesn’t end well. We’ve actually seen enough of these stories on grown folks to know that the pressures of the entertainment industry are often too much for even the most grounded and stable of adults to say Hollywood is no place for teens, tweens, and anything less. But when your child is mature for her age and has talent and individuality that scream stardom it can be hard to curb the urges to launch headfirst into the celebrity lifestyle and set reasonable boundaries—even if they are just a little girl. Enter Willow Smith.
Given Will and Jada Pinkett’s daughter’s drastic hair changes in the last month from buzz cut to blonde, many are looking at Willow’s cry for attention as a cry for help. Sure, cutting and dying one’s hair is just a form of expression. But what exactly is it that Willow wants to express?
Bloggers wasted no time trying to figure that out, heading to her Twitter page where this string of tweets was found a week after she’d sent: “If your don’t care… Why should I? Make sense? #lifeishard”
Immediately there was speculation that her angst was confirmation that her parents were in fact splitting up, to which Willow replied yesterday: “Omg, stop it already! I’m not allowed to have a bad day? This has nothing to do with my parents! Geez!”
To that I reply: yes, you absolutely can have as bad of a day as an 11-year-old should have. But when you start tweeting things about life being hard, wishing life was easy, and wanting to reclaim life as a “regular child” it makes me question whether she’s dealing with entertainment industry issues that are far beyond her years and that are stripping her of the one and only time in her life when she can and should be carefree—childhood. And that’s when I also begin to question whether the freedom Willow appears to have been given as a young child entertainer is too much, too young, and too soon.
The pressures of being in the entertainment industry are enormous. You can be great today and suck tomorrow; hot one minute and a has-been the next and the bruden to stay relevant in a realm of fast-fleeting interest is a lot to deal with in your formative years. Willow appears to be one of the most confident and headstrong pre-teens on the scene, but Hollywood has a way of stripping that confidence away from young girls and turning it into something ugly if you’re not conscious of that influence and surrounded by the right people. A quick run-through of teen stars shows that those who have had the most longevity—and the least problems—are those who often had their parents with them on their journey making decisions about what was appropriate and what was out of the question for their child (Brandy, Tyra Banks, Usher, Beyonce). It’s not clear whether Willow has that same support, not to mention that same structure.
In some ways, Willow’s life from the outside looking in has everything to do with being a child star and nothing to do with it at the same time. From a business standpoint, how does letting an 11-year-old run rampant on Twitter with 1 million-plus followers protect her brand? From a parental standpoint, why does an 11-year-old child have the freedom to run wild on a social network with seemingly no restrictions? For Willow, Twitter appears to be the land of the free for stripper-pole pose posts and hair instagrams that garner as many “cute” responses as they do criticisms.
At her age, Hollywood has the potential to be the equivalent of a bully at school—to the tenth power. It’s a parent’s job to protect their child when they’re being tormented at school and to shield them from influences that could harm then. As a parent in the industry you have to do that much more to make sure your child isn’t receiving tweets, posts, comments, criticisms, and anything else that could unnecessarily wound their self-image. While Willow seems to take it all in stride and have an understanding of the media’s way of flipping things, that’s also not something she should have to contend with at her age. But because she’s been allowed to put her life on display and open herself up to all the good and the bad the public, the media, and the industry will send her way, there’s little opportunity for her to go back and for people to see her as the non-picture perfect, regular child she longs to be.
Hopefully, more than the public remembering Willow is a child, her parents will do the same so that they not only keep her grounded but keep her young spirit protected as well. The entertainment industry isn’t going anywhere and neither is the fame of her parents that can open the door for a career later in life just as easily as it has now if she so chooses.
Do you think Willow is feeling the pressure of the entertainment industry? Is she too young to be in the spotlight so boldly?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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