ReelGirl Star of the Week: Willow Smith

Girls and hair, girls and hair, girls and hair! Toys marketed to girls– more often than not– involve hair. Very long hair. Barbie, of course, is well known for her waxy blond locks. Strawberry Shortcake and her friends Plum Puddin’ and Lemon Meringue wear stiff rectangles of hair that stretch to their knees. Even toys that don’t make you think about hair, say horses, get transformed into “My Little Pony” with girls shown on TV brushing their animals’ flowing manes and curly, pink tails.

Rapunzel Braiding Friends hair Braider

The latest addition to the plethora of hair based toys is Disney’s Rapunzel doll, sorry, I mean “The Braiding Friends Hair Braider” that “lets your little lady easily braid the Rapunzel doll’s hair.” This toy goes with the new Rapunzel movie, now called “Tangled” because the guys who run Hollywood decided they didn’t want to award a female character the title role. The abundance of toys marketed to girls and focused on grooming relentlessly reinforces that what’s important for them isn’t what their bodies can do, but how they appear.

This is why I was excited to see that Willow Smith, the nine year old daughter of actors Jada and Will, has a new video out called “I Whip my Hair.”

Yes, it’s abut hair. But sometimes the most effective way to create change is to make use of our current obsessions in order to alter them. This video is about what hair can do, not how it looks; which of course translates to what’s important is what Willow can do, not how she looks. Willow dances around her school, swinging her hair, obviously enjoying not only her singing and dancing skills, but the way it feels to move her body. She is also enjoying being looked at, not in an objectified way but she is celebrating being a dancer and singer and yes, being a star. In the video, she is admired by both boys and girls watching her– no small accomplishment for a girl when men too often decide it’s bad marketing to put her in the title of a movie.

Watching Willow jump around her school, past the rows of lockers is reminiscent of the well known Briney Spears catholic school girl video where she’s got her shirt tied up, baring her midriff in the cliched sexual fantasy. Ten years later, I feel like we’ve made some progress. Willow isn’t wearing sexualized clothing. She is wearing some make up– including what looks like white mascara and rhinestones– but she looks like she’s having fun with it, playing with costumes, not made up in a serious, creepy Jon Benet Ramsey way.

Willow Smith

Not only that, but Willow is a girl of color enjoying her hair– sadly, a radical statement. Even girls restricted to decorating their locks on TV usually aren’t wearing cornrows. Chris Rock did an excellent documentary called “Good Hair” about black women, girls and the ingrained, internalized racism, passed on from moms to daughters. Rock’s film is funny and analytical, but Willow uses a different tactic. By putting out a video that gets over 7 million YouTube hits in one week, instead of complaining about our culture, she changes it.

Feminsiting.com’s Lori Adelman comments reports on the video:

What many may not know is the meaning behind “Whip My Hair”. In a recent interview with MTV, Willow Smith explained the inspiration behind her lyrics:

” ‘Whip My Hair’ means don’t be afraid to be yourself, and don’t let anybody tell you that that’s wrong. Because the best thing is you.”…Willow has a message for you, too, buried in the chorus between exuberant if repetitive directives to “whip your hair back and forth”: “Don’t let haters keep me off my grind/ keep my head up/ I know I’ll be fine.”

Willow Smith is ReelGirl’s Star of the Week.

Check out her video here.

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