Yesterday the Internet had a shit-fit over the precocious object of our hair-whipping fascination, Willow Smith, posing on a bed with a shirtless man seven years her senior. But wait, because it sounds worse than it is. The photo is pretty tame, particularly when you stop for a second to acknowledge that a) a certain type of SoCal dude lives his life shirtless and just chilling on a bed, and b) a perfect example of that type of dude, if there ever was one, is 20-year-old former Hannah Montana actor Moises Arias.
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith reportedly do not take any issue with the whole thing, seeing as Arias is a longtime family friend via Willow’s 15-year-old brother, Jaden. They told beacon of journalism TMZ that their 13-year-old daughter is “very mature” and capable of making her own decisions regarding the company she keeps. Jada, in particular, asserted that there was nothing sexual about the photo. I don’t trust TMZ one iota, but this seems par for the course for the Smiths. They let Jaden party with Justin Bieber, 20, and take underwear pics with Kylie Jenner, 16.
Whether or not Will and Jada are the IRL version of Amy Poehler’s Mean Girls character is beside the point, though signs point to yes (with a dash of New Age-iness tossed in.) The real question here revolves around the reaction to this photo. Why must people assume that it’s sexual merely because Willow is a minor sitting on a bed with a male? And why are they low-key vilifying her over it?
Arias, a “photographer,” clearly thought the image was innocent enough to post to his social media accounts, from where it has since been removed. I don’t disagree with him — this seems innocent enough. Willow is fully clothed, laying on her side facing away from him, in broad daylight no less. They are not touching, and they’re both looking the same direction. I can imagine Jaden telling a story in another part of the bedroom, and the bed happened to be where there was space to sit. A photo taken in the same session, posted last month to Arias’ Tumblr (which is full of all sorts of arty, black and white portraits of pseudo-celebrities), suggests that the mood was light.
(via Moises Arias’ Tumblr)
I recognize that social media is a bullshit metric for gauging the culture’s true reaction to something, but why — in flipping through hundreds of critical tweets — have I seen few negative allegations directed at Arias? After all, if he was doing what people seem to want to believe the photo implies, he would be the one breaking laws. But no, it’s Smith who gets accused of some sort of ill-defined impropriety on the basis of one photo. Ultimately, it’s just one more example of our culture’s automatic slut-shaming. That’s the only part of this story that’s perverse.