Willow Smith on growing up in the spotlight: ‘It is absolutely, excruciatingly terrible’

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Willow Smith has been famous since she was 10 years old. You could argue that she’s been famous since before then, perhaps since birth, since she’s the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. But Willow was 10 when she did “Whip My Hair,” and it seemed like her parents were trying to push her into early stardom. Reportedly, Willow was the one to tell her parents that she needed to NOT be famous and just be a kid for a while, and they stopped pushing so hard. That’s just the backstory for this: Willow, now 17, spoke to GirlGaze about how much she hated her life, how even rich, well-connected and famous teenage girls still have problems. I honestly wanted to eye-roll through some of it, but I get what she’s talking about, and I think we should remember that she’s speaking to a specific audience, that of young girls who think she’s great. You can read the full GirlGaze piece here. Some highlights:

Growing up in the spotlight: “I’m going to be completely and utterly honest, it’s absolutely terrible…Growing up and trying to figure out your life… while people feel like they have some sort of entitlement to know what’s going on, is absolutely, excruciatingly terrible— and the only way to get over it, is to go into it. You can’t change your face. You can’t change your parents. You can’t change any of those things. So I feel like most kids like me end up going down a spiral of depression, and the world is sitting there looking at them through their phones; laughing and making jokes and making memes at the crippling effect that this lifestyle has on the psyche. When you’re born into it, there are two choices that you have; I’m either going to try to go into it completely and help from the inside, or… no one is going to know where I am… and I’m really going to take myself completely out of the eye of society. There’s really no in-between.”

She doesn’t consider herself a Millennial: While the generation now in their late twenties have been classified as Millennials, Willow belongs to the emerging Generation Z; supposedly the most anxious generation in history as well as the most technology-addicted. “I definitely think we’re the most anxious,” said Willow, when asked whether she agreed with this generalization. “Yeah, we’re definitely the most anxious. I see it in myself. We’re hypersensitive. This generation is hypersensitive spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally. So when we look on our phones and we see people dying right next to us and we’re sitting there about to go get a latte— that breaks you down. It’s not just the phones. The phones are just a tool. The phones just heighten what was already happening.”

The message of respect: “If other women aren’t going to respect other women then you’re right we are pretty much f–ked. I try to talk to other women about, you know, listening to misogynistic music and paying to see misogynistic rappers and putting their energy into things that are only going to hurt them in the long run, and we just all need that awareness I think.”

[From GirlGaze]

It’s easy enough for those of us who are much older than 17 to sort of shrug and roll our eyes at The Struggle, particularly when it comes to the youths and social media. But personally, I feel so disconnected from the teen struggles and how they’ve grown up on social media and how social media and the internet has changed so much of how young people interact, how they date, how they befriend people, who they trust, and more. Whenever I think about that, I do get nostalgic for my own teen years, way before social media, when being “social” involved “sharing a cig on a balcony” or, you know, actually talking to people face to face. Now imagine all of those changes and the normal teenage bulls–t (which is never fun), and then add a healthy dose of “your parents are low-key Scientologists and they pushed you to become famous before your 11th birthday.” Poor Willow.

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84 Responses to “Willow Smith on growing up in the spotlight: ‘It is absolutely, excruciatingly terrible’”

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  1. Millennial says:

    What she said about growing up famous sounded pretty accurate to me. I don’t think it’s a super healthy way to grow up.

  2. Danielle says:

    Given the criticism online aimed at celebrity children I think you can see where she’s coming from

    • Annabelle Bronstein says:

      That’s a problem. I wish the American press was more protective of children. They should be off limits, at least for pap photos.

      • Bridget says:

        You’d have to get the parents to stop first. Most of those pictures we see? Are at specific places known to be photographer haunts. There are more than one pumpkin patch, playground, farmer’s market, etc.. Motherhood and family are a part of the celebrity commodity now, and those photos help make an image. There are plenty of celebrity children that we have no clue what they look like, it is definitely possible.

      • ol cranky says:

        I agree with Bridget, it’s the parents – so eager to make their children celebrities – that do this to their kids (and that was, most definitely, the case with the two younger Smith children)

      • Annabelle Bronstein says:

        @Bridget Parents should do their part, I agree. But I also agree with laws that require parental permission to post candid pictures of minors. At least we would know who is selling out their kids.

      • trrr says:

        They are left alone when their parents want them and to be.
        Heath Ledger, Adriana Lima, Eminem, Kate Moss, all A listers and most people don’t even remember they had kids, let alone know what they look like or their names.
        Then you have the Afflecks, Alessandra Ambrosio, Cindy Crawford and of course the Smiths who pushed their kids in front of the paps every chance they got before the kids were even old enough to know what was happening.

      • FLORC says:

        With Bridget
        There are many celebs with children that fly under the radar. And they seem to do it easily. They avoid the areas that are pap stroll havens. They don’t phone the paps in advance. They live normal lives and don’t cause gossip.
        Lots even get married, pregnant, birth a family, and we don’t know until they announce it or someone notices a baby with them. The parents play a major role.

      • annaloo. says:

        At some point, do we look at ourselves and ask why WE are the consumers of celebrity child photos? There isn’t a sale without a buyer.

  3. Astrid says:

    I have some sympathy but every generation of teens has their hurdles, some generations worse than others. Imagine being drafted for WWII, Korea, or Vietnam when you’re 18?

  4. LAK says:

    As eyeroll inducing as some of her pronouncements have been over the years, I always remember that she didn’t want to be famous and was pretty outspoken about wanting to take a step back. I think she even enrolled back in school, but her particular experiences made it impossible to integrate and so she quit.

    I don’t have much sympathy for her brother. He is all in!!!!

    • magnoliarose says:

      Scientologists are neglectful parents because the cult is more important than anything else. Their ideas about parenting are unhealthy, and it seems as if she knows this or else she would not talk the way she does.
      I have sympathy for her, and I hope she can find her way to the life she wants.

    • jwoolman says:

      Her parents should have just let her be a kid and wait until she was educated and full grown before stepping into the fray. It’s really their fault. She liked to sing, so they thought the proper response was to buy a recording studio and put her on tour… She could have waited. Maybe she would have eventually become a singer or a model, but those are the go-to roles for poorly educated rich kids. With a decent education, maybe she would have become an engineer or a writer or a state senator or a real entrepreneur (not just somebody lending her name and face). Her upbringing limited her so much. It’s never too late to get real schooling with her resources, but she probably is too stuck in the groove her parents dug for her.

      Her brother likewise. He wouldn’t have had a chance in open auditions, so his dad made roles for him. Not fair to him or to the productions. It’s really sad – he has shown genuine curiosity about the world, with no tools to properly explore it.

      They’re nice kids, but they were just normal in their entertainment talents. They should have been allowed to grow into their real talents, which would become apparent much later.

    • Bridget says:

      She must have been so utterly unprepared for mainstream education. Will and Jada Smith failed their children.

    • babykitten says:

      Oh I totally blame Will and Jada. They shoved these children into the public’s eye, and then gave them a very poor education to boot. And to those who believe that these children, as well as the Pitt-Jolie kids, cannot be shielded due to their parents’ fame, when is the last time Will’s first child was in the news? I don’t even know his name.

      What about Isabella and Connor Cruise? Their parents were every bit as famous as Brad and Angie. It is possible to shield your children and keep them away from paps if you want to. Of course Katie isn’t Nicole, and allowed Tom to march that biological prize before the press for years, even though it clearly traumatized her.

      • Starfire says:

        @babykitten

        Actually Conner and Isabella were both photographed a lot as kids even back when they were younger before social media, celebrity blogs and tabloid blogs took off so you can’t really compare the two. By the time Conner and Isabella were at the age of social media they were working for Scientology so they were not seen as much. You think being involved in a cult and doing slave labor is the answer?

        Just because you don’t know Will first son’s name or what he looks like doesn’t mean others don’t his name is Trey. he in th news not to long ago talking about football. He seems not to have been pushed in to become a star like his younger siblings.

        You seem to be confusing having celebrity patents and being seen every now and then, with being a child star with celebrity parents. Willow is a child star and growing up in that environment in a very public way had a negative effect on her, I’m not surprised.

        Not to mention the pressure she and her brother must be under. Willow and Jaden were awarded a prestigious award by BET when Willow and Jaden they only had one song and one movie under their belt. Not only was it not deserved, but it was to much to soon.

  5. Annabelle Bronstein says:

    I feel really sorry for these kids who didn’t even have the option for a normal life. I understand leaning into the fact that you have this incredible world at your fingertips. But some things- like privacy and having a ‘normal’ childhood – you just can’t buy that. It makes me sad.

    • KBB says:

      And she makes a good point about strangers thinking they know you and that entitlement. How many celebrity kids are basically celebrities in their own right because their parents talk about them and bring them on red carpets and pap strolls?

      Even those that aren’t trying to push their kids into the business are inviting public comment simply because they don’t actively work to protect their kid’s privacy and anonymity.

      I hate Matt Damon, but he is one celebrity that is good about his kids. I don’t know what they look like, I don’t know their names, and I don’t know anything about them. Compare that to the Jolie-Pitt or Affleck kids. I shouldn’t know that Violet Affleck is an avid reader or that Pax Jolie-Pitt likes to bake, you know?

      • WMGDtoo says:

        there are hundreds of pictures of Matt Damon’s kids online. Do a google search. The reason you don’t know much about them is that there is not a public interest in Matt for the most part nor his children. The public drives the fascination. Brad/Angelina getting together was a world wide event. They are more than just A list stars. People were hungry for news about them. And that is where it starts. If the public didn’t care there wouldn’t be that much interest. Yes their parents helped. but when you get 2 huge stars together having children. That is news. Beside that Brad/Angelina became a couple at the start of gossip online. Matt is married to a woman that is not a celebrity. But even that doesn’t stop pictures. There many many online. Just that gossip sites don’t buy them and write stories.

    • Sophia's Side eye says:

      You can’t buy it and you can never turn back the clock and get that lost childhood back. It is very sad.

  6. equalitygadfly says:

    No eye-rolls here. Pushy parents are the WORST — no matter the economic situation. Couple that with teenage angst? Poor Willow, indeed.

  7. Maria F says:

    I was working for the record company when she was promoting ‘whip my hair’ and I felt so sorry for her, for having to hang out with all these adults (even if The were her parents and Beyonce and Jay-z during one event), instead of hanging with her peers. I did not understand her parents. All these kids (I include Kaia Gerber e.g) will be famous not matter when, so why not allow them the longest childhood possible? The famous know the pressure of the business better then anybody else, so why expose their off spring?

    • Annabelle Bronstein says:

      I so agree with you. Give them until at least 16 before you allow them into the spotlight. Do you know what Matt Damon’s kids look like? Or Matthew McGonaughey? It can be done.

      • Annabelle Bronstein says:

        @Tamaris same here! These kids have no other chance to have a secure childhood, but they have their whole lives to be famous. I guess for AJ, red carpets and no routine WAS a normal childhood.

      • Rose says:

        Yes I actually know what both Matt and Matthew kids look like just because picture of them are not posted here doesn’t mean they are not posted elsewhere.

        Willow and her brother seem to have a normal childhood when they just pop up at red carpet events like thier older brother. Thing seem to have change once Will and Jada wanted to make them famous. When Willow hit song first came out none of her comments seems like she was happy.

      • Sky says:

        @ANNABELLE BRONSTEIN

        You do know Will has an older son from his first marriage. Hes been featured in Will music videos back when he did music and he’s also been on the red carpet with Will and Jada over the years. 

        The problem with Willow was not that she walked the red carpets. The fact is she it seems like she was pushed to be a child star. There are two interviews that Willow did right after I “whip my hair back and forth” that was very eye-opening.  She talked about having trouble with math and it not being a big concern to her parents. She also talk about a time she in Studios and all she wanted to do was go  and play with her friends and she said that her parents told her that if she wants to do music it has to come first and she has to have a strong work ethic. While I think a good work ethic it’s important I think she was a child and should have done music on the side for fun not as a career if that’s not what she wanted to do.

        The same goes for Willows brother.  He was going to be a Child movie star he did one movie and then nothing else and then he got hooked up with Justin Bieber with no  parental guidance. There’s pictures of Willow flying all over by herself in The Bodyguard without Will or Jada their even  one of her in Vegas on a stripper pole.

      • Sky says:

        @ANNABELLE BRONSTEIN

        I also know what both Matthew and Matt’s kids look like. You do know that Matthew kids have been on the red carpet more then once and he even had them on stage with him when he received an award. They been to on the red carpet at his wife hanfbags events. Not to mention he had them with him when he received his Hollywood star and  there are of photos of him his wife and his kids out and about. Matt Damon, his wife and kid who photographed  at LAX a couple of weeks ago and at other times. Adam Sandler’s kids aren’t photographed a lot, but he’s had had them in his movies along with his wife and he’s also taking them on the red carpet.

        Going to your parents red carpet event is completely different from being a child star, I don’t know why your trying to compare the two. When your a child star and growing up in the spotlight, your complete open to a whole set of different rules. You become a public figure and nothing is private from media and tabloids.

      • lucy2 says:

        I’ve always said that until they are old enough to fully understand what it means to be in the public eye, their privacy should be as protected as possible.

    • Bridget says:

      Will and Jada view entertainment as the family business, and think it’s okay to push their children into the family business. This was also the time that Will specifically developed Annie for Willow, and she’s the one who told him she didn’t want to do it.

  8. Nicole says:

    No eyerolls here either. We all know that this country does not protect celeb children to the point where even politicians like to call them snowflakes for daring to have feelings. I think she’s sensitive and the fact that at 10 she had to set boundaries against her parents says a lot.
    And she’s right. Phones heighten a lot of stuff. I have kids in therapy that can go from happy to miserable in a minute because of a text or a status update. It’s terrible. And as an adult I think about how sometimes I need a break from the constant news cycle because it can make ME upset. I’ve taken social media hiatuses just to mentally right the ship for a while. So I get what she’s saying here.

  9. Nancy says:

    Being a teen is never easy, my daughter assures me of this regularly. However, this is Willow’s normal. She was born into this life. I chuckled that she felt it was us who felt entitled to peak into her life, when I feel it was the polar opposite. Had it not been for mom and dad, she never would have had that God awful song. The whining of how hard it is to be me could have come out of Kylie Jenner’s mouth. I agree with @Astrid above, however, as we live and breath, these kids have trump as their president. Ugh

  10. GreenTurtle says:

    The used to find the Smith kids quite annoying, but she sounds very thoughtful and observant here. I worry for this generation of American kids, because they’re inheriting an increasingly messed-up world in which they’ll scarcely be able to afford college and health care.

  11. Shelly says:

    She should try school . It’s odd that the PR hating celeb kids all hate the spotlight until you suggest education.

    • LAK says:

      She did. After she backed away from the parental fame push. She didn’t fit in. Mind you, she probably didn’t give it enough time to settle. From her comments about it, she quit as soon as met the first unpleasant moment.

      If you are raised coddled all your life like she was, meeting unimpressed peers who won’t automatically coddle you can be traumatising, and Will and Jada seem instant gratification kind of parents who won’t insist the kids stick at it for the eventual reward it might bring the kids long term.

      • PoliteTeaSipper says:

        I don’t think it’s so much as “coddling” as the fact that CoS doesn’t really value education. So she jumps into a pool of peers where she can’t process or handle the level of complex information. You might as well be shitting on a preK child for not knowing how to do calculus. They can’t function on that level because they haven’t even been exposed to the prerequisites—not just in education, but social and cultural too. And whose fault is it?
        Not willow’s. It’s her parents responsibility. She has a right to call out things that have badly crippled her life experience and she has a right to be upset about it. Just because you don’t get it or can’t muster up any empathy for a girl who didn’t get to choose her life doesn’t mean she should shut up and go away.

      • babykitten says:

        Since when does a 17 y/o have the option of trying and then rejecting education. My kid would be in high school until she graduated, and no way in hell would they enter a CO$ school. I can’t believe Jada’s mom wasn’t able to convince them of the importance of education.

        Meeting unimpressed peers would have done them a hell of a lot of good. How will it be any easier when they’re thirty and finally figure it out?

        I think it would take a very driven, self-motivated child who could gain a good education with lax parents who do not value your education, and let you cuddle in bed at 14 with a much older male “friend”. The Smith parents don’t strike me as much better than Kris and Caitlyn Jenner.

      • LAK says:

        PoliteTeaSipper: what part of my comment was unsympathetic to her?

        Previous poster made the remark that she should try school and i pointed out that she did and it didn’t stick. And her reasoning was that she couldn’t cope with school and her peers.

        I have every sympathy for how or why that happened and if anybody should be blamed it’s the parents not Willow.

        It’s also upto the parents to help her stick to this and work it out instead of pulling her out of school at the first sign of trouble without examining the problem.

      • jwoolman says:

        She needed to work intensively with tutors and in remedial classes for older kids in order to get her skills up to speed before trying a regular classroom. The Scientology approach to education which her parents inflicted on both kids is pretty deadly. There’s no shame in needing remedial work. The college where I taught had testing facilities and classes to help people do exactly that, since students came in from very different high school experiences and the freshman courses were pretty intense, requiring the ability to read with good comprehension and to write coherently. The math department had its own remedial classes rather than just dumping unprepared students into the regular curriculum.

  12. marc kile says:

    I think her parents were the ones pushing her into the limelight it just seemed they wanted some entertainment dynasty to feed their egos

  13. Feedmechips says:

    Has it really been 7 years since Whip My Hair??? 😭😭😭

  14. The Original G says:

    I think celeb kids should be totally off limits. It’s really unnecessary for a bunch of adults to speculate and project on the lives of these young people and I totally side-eye the celebs that pull them out for pap walks.

  15. Dolkite says:

    Yeah, boo fucking hoo. Everyone feels really sorry for you and believes you have an “excruciating” life.

  16. perplexed says:

    Sounds like she’s admitting she has depression so that makes me feel bad for her.

    She’s very pretty (just a random comment).

  17. Mar says:

    There are so many famous people that have kids and we don’t hear about them. It depends on the parents and how much they will “ expose “ their children. In all honesty it makes me sick that people are so desperate for fame for their children.
    Her comment about changing her face reminded me of Kylie Jenner.

    • Pansy says:

      Exactly! Although we do see them from time to time, I couldn’t pick Reese Witherspoon’s or Dwayne Johnson’s kids out of a lineup. Celebrity kids do have another layer of difficulty, and it’s ok for her to say that and us respect it. Is it the same as a homeless teen or a teen growing up in housing projects? No, but I’m not side eyeing her too much for being a 17 year old who is basically admitting depression and loneliness, no matter how she grew up.

  18. paranormalgirl says:

    Absolutely no eyerolls here. She’s right. If you take the social media obsessed world we now inhabit, add fame to that, then add lack of privacy and you have a toxic mix for a child. Willow seems like she’s trying to rise above it and I wish her luck. In spite of her unconventional upbringing, she seems to have a halfway decent head on her shoulders.

    I’m grateful every day that the spawn are really not that into social media, just the basics to keep in touch with their friends and relatives who live farther away (now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably discover that they are social media superstars. LOL)

  19. Bridget says:

    Once again, Will and Jada have utterly failed their children. They have no education, no problem solving or coping skills to survive in the real world. Both Willow and Jaden have no skillset aside from trying to go into entertainment. She seems like a nice, curious girl, and the ridiculousness is age appropriate.

  20. Zazz says:

    I agree with a lot of what she said but i wonder why she didn’t follow her half brother’s path or example ?

    There is a reason why Will Smith’s first son seems and sounds the only one of his children to have some balance when it comes to be raised in the spotlight of a famous father and he seems emotionally stable. He actually has a mum who didn’t fail him and made sure he wasn’t put out there too soon.

    You can have super famous parents and still have a great childhood. It’s all about how your famous parents decide to raise you.

    Will Smith first born should have been the example Jaden and Willow should have strive to follow.

    • perplexed says:

      Maybe she feels pressure from her parents. Kids like to please their parents, and she’s still pretty young. I think the half-brother has the influence of Will’s first wife.

    • babykitten says:

      The difference was probably Will’s first son’s mother. She shielded her child, as Nicole Kidman did with all of her children.

      • Sky says:

        I don’t think Wills first wife sheltered her son. He was involved in Wills music videos and he’s also been on red carpets with Will and Jada. I think the difference is he’s not push to become a movie star or singer or anything like that. There’s also the fact that Will and Jada are involved with Scientology.

      • babykitten says:

        Avoiding CO$ is always a positive, but he’s at least shielded to the extent that I don’t now his name and couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. I have to believe that his mother has helped prevent him from self-aggrandizement like believing he can control time, is a genius physicist, or to stand around with mouth gaping over and a seriously confused frown.

  21. Harryg says:

    Then leave the spotlight now that you can. And take your brother with you.

  22. Amelie says:

    Well as someone who grew up in the age of AOL instant messaging and in middle school when having an e-mail address was new and exciting, online bullying was just starting back then (and this was in 2000). Even back then schools were having workshops about cyberbullying. E-mail and instant messaging and chatrooms were quite enough (are chatrooms even still a thing nowadays?). MySpace was around when I was in high school but I didn’t get onto social media until 2006, my last year of high school when Facebook became wildly popular (and still only open to college students and high school students at the time). I can’t imagine being a teen now with a smartphone and dealing with Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook (which generation Z doesn’t think is cool by the way)/Twitter/Youtube etc. No wonder generation Z is so anxious.

  23. babykitten says:

    I guess I just don’t understand parents claiming they have no control over their children’s involvement in social media. Don’t allow them to have facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc. Monitor their device time, don’t let them have smart phones. It’s just so irritating when they shrug their shoulders and lay the blame on “society”, thus dismissing their own responsibility. I know someone who caught her 5th grader watching porn, and took her phone and Ipad away for about a week. Why did she need a smart phone and Ipad at the age of ten? She actually got her smart phone a year or two earlier. My friend didn’t monitor her devices because she said her daughter only went on line to watch do it yourself videos on youtube. It was actually her twenty y/o daughter who caught her on porn, and had been telling her mom she should be more suspicious.

    • J.Mo says:

      It’s really difficult to monitor use of electronics. I know, because I do it. My 15 yr old son isn’t allowed unsupervised use and doesn’t have the ability to delete any history, and he doesn’t care, although he likes YouTube and gaming. He can have privacy when he pays for his electronics and the cable bill. He also doesn’t have a cell phone or want one. It’s a lot of work to be the number one influence on your kids but somebody has to do it. This isn’t directed at you, babykitten, I’m just surprised when parents are surprised that raising kids is life consuming and has a lot of consequences if you want certain results.

    • Tessy says:

      That’s awful. I can’t imagine being a parent in this day and age, it was so much easier when we didn’t have all this electronic stuff to worry about on top of the kids falling off their bicycles.

  24. mylene says:

    i have zero empathy .. sorry but i understand what she said but she have so many possibility, experience, traval than the average teen or adult don’t. i really hate when they do that (celebrity)… horrible ? she don’t know what a horrible life is …..

    • CK3 says:

      That’s like saying less fortunate American kids don’t know what a horrible life is because atleast their government isn’t actively hunting them down and gassing them like kids in Syria.

      Having opportunity, wealth, and money doesn’t automatically shield you from having a horrible life experience.

    • jwoolman says:

      This is the only life she knows. We can’t compare pain because we can’t really judge pain in other people.

      Money does not make people happy. People can grow up dirt poor and still be happy if their families deal with the situation properly. The only student in my brother’s high school class to commit suicide was the daughter of wealthy parents.

      It is disturbing that Willow tried a regular school but gave up because she felt she couldn’t cope with school and the other students. Willow’s parents did not give their children the basic skills they need to weather the storms. They stunted their children’s growth. The kids do seem genuinely kind, so the parents are not total failures. But they have severely limited their children’s options.

    • gatorbait says:

      I’m sorry but I have to agree with you. I get sick of people with money complaining. Sure you can have problems too but you don’t have them in addition to trying to pay your car note, car insurance, health insurance, doctor’s bills from what insurance won’t pay, all your kids needs and more on top of it. So they can spare me, personally. I simply don’t feel bad for them. I’d kill to have my problems but be debt free and not have to worry about my child’s future college expenses in addition. If being wealthy is so hard then I’ll trade them. They can live in my trailer and figure out how to survive that way while I live in their gilded mansions with my depression.

  25. Mama says:

    I think she sounds pretty intelligent about all of it.