Willow Smith and Moises AriasBy TERREECE M. CLARKE

Growing up, I knew that I, as a child, was acutely responsible for warding off rapists and molesters. In the same strain, I was acutely responsible for ensuring that my reputation as a “good girl” remained unblemished. Each one hinged on the other— making growing up black and female outrageously difficult.

To ward off rapists and molesters I was supposed to be mindful of my surroundings, be careful not to be too talkative or attentive to older males (including family and friends), not to wear anything that may be perceived as sexy because, “that thang (penis) can’t tell the difference.”

That meant no biker shorts when they were considered fashionable because I had a big booty for an 8-, 9-, 10-year-old. It meant getting in trouble when I spoke too long to male visitors because I was, “being all in their face.” It meant constantly navigating unwritten rules that no kid would ever know about unless they were broken. It meant preserving your family’s reputation and avoiding being branded a “fast tail girl.”

Fast. It meant you were sexually aware. Vixen. Lolita. Interchangeable with “hot tail” and “too grown.”

There were no concrete signs of a fast tail girl and there were no clear ways to avoid being branded. It all hinged on a feeling. A feeling a neighborhood woman would get if she saw you hanging out on the front porch with other neighborhood kids. A feeling a cousin would get if she saw you dancing a little too well—“How does she know how to move like that?” A feeling someone else would get if you returned a male’s smile and said hello a little too warmly.

You could be branded “fast” as young as two or three years old. Dancing, admiring yourself, having crushes, masturbating, or simply walking. It didn’t matter. In fact, the branding was more often than not used as a weapon instead of a ham-fisted means of protection against a larger world that still held black female bodies as sexual commodities.

Think too highly of yourself? The rumors of being fast would follow you. Neighborly spat between adults that had nothing to do with you? You were branded as fast as a means to insult the adult associated with you. And the consequences of being fast were dire.

Once branded you could lose friends and gain the attention of predatory men, but the worst thing was, you lost protection. As a good girl if you were hurt, the community would rally to your aid. If you were a “fast tail girl,” you deserved it. Fast tail girls didn’t get raped; they asked for it. Their opinions didn’t matter; their voices were silenced.

There was also no set rollover date where you could move from being a “good girl” to being a prude. Countless women in committed relationships and marriages still fight the “good girl” rules in their heads, trying to strike the balance between adult intimacy and long-standing childhood shame.

I wish this was an antiquated tale of days gone by, but the subject rears it’s ugly head again and again. Most recently online photos of Willow Smith were shared as, “sexy pics with a 20-year-old man.” Immediately, women—WOMEN—everywhere commented on the 13-year-old being “too fast” and called on her parents to “calm her ‘hot tail’ down.”

The photos, clad in a faux artsy filter, depicts Willow laying on a bed, fully clothed, looking slightly bored while a young man of 20 sits on the side of the bed looking at something out of frame and in a second photo cracking up. And he’s shirtless. The horror. There are kids in Cali not wearing shirts indoors.

It’s the tabloid’s job to make a big deal out of absolutely nothing. It’s the job of thinking adults to recognize it for what it is. Nothing. Kids hang out with each other and newsflash, they aren’t all the same age.

But here we are. She’s a hot tail girl and I call B.S.

In this latest slut-shaming exercise, we are continuing to send a dangerous message to girls: “Follow by our random, ignorant, rules governing your behavior, dress and sexuality or else.”

Instead of calling into question why adults project sexuality on innocent situations, we blame the children. Instead of recognizing the 3-year-old is popping her booty because she’s mimicking what she sees, we worry a dormant sexual beast is ready to burst forth in preschool.

Instead of recognizing the middle school girl in revealing clothes is crying for help, and/or just trying to figure out where she is in her body as its changing, we ignore her or treat her with disdain. It is our blind adherence to vague indicators of propriety that continues to put girls in danger. Sex trafficking—a cause close to the heart of Willow’s mom, Jada—is in part made possible because adults turn a blind eye to girls in distress. In a 2012 USA Today article, a young girl explained how perception left her vulnerable:

“For some of the time, Graves herself remained in high school, attending classes sporadically in boy shorts, small tank tops and worn heels.

“In the schools, they thought I just dressed provocatively,” Graves said of the teachers and staff who missed chances to help her. “Now, people are actually understanding that these girls are victims.”

This isn’t about permissive parenting or celebrity indulgence. It’s about our community’s attitudes toward young girls and their bodies and who has the right to control them (hint: it’s not you).

Let’s start right now by acknowledging there is no such thing as a fast tail girl. There is a such thing as girls who need guidance. Girls who need positive adult role models. There most certainly, too, are girls who don’t need anything but an end to adults being lecherous predators. How about we try some of that for a change?

Terreece M. Clarke is a freelance writer/journalist for a variety of magazines, newspapers and websites and a rocking’ wife and mother of three. She is also a My Black is Beautiful Ambassador Search Semi-Finalist. Follow her on Twitter: @terreece!

Photo credit: from Tumblr’s 490tx

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  1. This was EXTREMELY well written and thought provoking. Unfortunately I don’t think many people looked beyond the surface of this photo and thought about the deeper issues at hand. Everyone is quick to criticize Willow for something that she deemed to be innocent.

    However, I do still have a problem with this photo. At first glance, I didn’t realize it was Willow. It looked like a couple laying on the bed relaxing. It appeared intimate to me. I do think that there needs to be a measure of protection that tells girls that laying on the bed with a boy is sometimes suggestive. An open door or lax attitude leads to other things in which our girls aren’t necessarily ready to deal with. So No, I do not blame Willow, but I do have an issue with her parents allowing her to think that this is okay. In a perfect world the photo would be harmless, but in our twisted world it is indeed a tad bit suggestive.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post billinsleamedia!

      One thought to add to your comment, I don’t see a problem with her parents allowing her to think it is okay because they have a large say in the world around her. I’m sure there was discussion on what people thought was happening, but I’m also fairly certain everyone recognizes that those who have a problem with it are the ones with the problem.

  2. This is beautifully written and thanks

  3. Maybe its up to the people looking to look deeper.. How does Willow have control over what other people are thinking? And the whole point of the article was to say, this is not even her job to make sure we don’t think the wrong thing of her. So WHY should her parents be talking to her about how something will be perceived by this nasty world if in her innocence she didn’t even look at it like that? I didn’t know who it was either when I first saw it. And it does look intimate at first QUICK glance. But, its clear, to anyone willing to take the time to look further that they aren’t being intimate. So, why should Willow take the time to care what anyone thinks of her, when those same people won’t even take the time to “look deeper”?

    • Yep Karene. Unfortunately for click bait, site rely on people NOT looking deeply and people are quick to outrage, not so quick to delve deeper. Thanks for the comment!

    • I agree with Karene and also with you, Terreece.

      The image is a provocative one at first glance. And yes, I can see why it would cause some discomfort.
      But at the same time, many people are quick to judge and to assume the worst. Willow might be on a bed with a young man but other than his shirt being off, they are both clothed. He is laughing and they are not posed in a sexually suggestive way…they aren’t touching at all.

      I wonder if Willow were older, maybe 16 or 17, would people still be as upset about it? But then again, she has always been criticized as “too grown” no matter what she does.

  4. I do think that Willow was unfairly shamed. I don’t this picture depicts a “fast girl” or lack of parenting. Is it in poor taste? Yes, I do think the image seems inappropriate, but my impression is based on my more adult, more experienced filter. A filter Willow probably doesn’t possess. I don’t think either party should be shamed for the photo, but they should be made aware of what it “implies.” More for the guys in the photo than Willow. This makes him look like some kid of molester. I’m sure not the image he was going for. http://justmeandyoukid.com/singer-willow-smith-in-bed-with-actor-moises-arias-inappropriate/

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