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An intimate affair with hair: 12-year-old Willow Smith's shaved-head controversy

Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and her husband, actor/rapper Will Smith, have come under heavy criticism for 12-year-old daughter Willow’s eccentric style. The latest manifestation of that is her shaved head. Critics are blowing up Twitter and Facebook with their disapproval of how they say the power couple Smiths are raising their daughter.

Many object to young Willow’s sense of style, from the clothes and shoes she wears to how she wears her hair. Her style can only be described as eclectic and the “tween,” who also sings, prefers sky-high chunky wedge shoes, a few piercings, I think, and an odd collection of mixed Goth/hip-hop and grunge attire.

Jada and Will have never publicly responded to the criticism until now. In a letter posted on Facebook titled “Letter To a Friend, mom Jada wrote this about her daughter’s bald pate: “Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair.” (Read the rest of Jada’s letter here: ... http://bit.ly/Sroj7b).

As a mom, I know our first instinct is to feel Jada and Will are being too permissive, that by allowing their children to freely express themselves, they are inadvertently playing the “friend” role instead of the parents with rules and boundaries. At first, I thought so too. But Jada's powerful opening line (above) speaks to the other side: What’s so bad about Willow head sans hair? Does it harm her in any way—physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually?

Many parents in the black community allow their 12-year-old daughters to perm their hair. In fact, some initiate it long before that age by putting that harmful chemical in young girls’ hair to remove the dreaded “kink.” Isn’t that more of a health hazard to our girls than a shaved head—especially if they are comfortable with it?

What about the psychological aspects of a perm? You know, that age old “black hair” issues where our self-esteem and self-worth are tightly wrapped up in the texture of our tresses. We were told and taught that the European straight, long, soft hair is better, more beautiful than our natural “kinky hair, a social idea that was generationally inherited by many.

I find it fascinating that we do not have outraged parents writing about passing on our harmful legacy of “permed or straightened hair” to our daughters but who spew over Willow’s shaved head. We feed a billion-dollar industry of dangerous products, all geared towards ostensibly making our hair “prettier” and more “manageable.” But strange as it may sound, are the two related?

I remember cutting off all my hair when I was about 19. It literally broke my mom’s heart, because she couldn’t understand why I would cut off all my “good hair.” That “good, nice hair” had a little help since I was very young. My mom used to “press” my hair; it was a thick mass of what we called in the Caribbean “hard-to-comb” hair.

Thank goodness we were too poor to buy the chemical cream that could do what the hot comb did, but better. Straight, soft, shiny hair remained that way much longer and didn’t change back to the dreaded kinky natural state when wet, as the “pressed” hair did. I say thank goodness, for like many other little girls in my neighborhood, I would have started using harmful chemical cream much earlier. Alas, as soon as I graduated and had a job, I gleefully went to “straighten” my thick hair.

Which begs the question, are folks mad at Willow’s parents because they allowed her to cut off all that "good hair?” (Jada had naturally softer hair, and Willow inherited it).

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Read a few my articles on the black community's intimate affair with hair and shades of color by clicking links below:

An intimate affair with hair

http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/6477320-is-the-lightdark-color-complex-still-crippling-africanamerican-and-caribbean-folks (this article was linked in the Washington Post.)

http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/12881904-black-hair-and-corporate-america-a-2001-hampton-u-ban-on-lockscornrows-reignites-debate