Is that photo of Willow Smith a) inappropriate or b) no big deal?

Willow Smith and Moises Arias 2

Trick question — the correct answer is c) not your concern.

Willow Smith and all of her #blackgirlmagic have put people’s proverbial tits in a twirl once again. This time it’s because a photo of her in bed with shirtless 20-year-old actor Moises Arias was posted online. The former Hannah Montana star is a mutual friend of Willow, her older brother Jaden, and Jaden’s bae, Kendall Jenner (a piece of celebrity news I didn’t know). As you can see, they aren’t touching or engaged in any way, but they’re in a bed, and he’s not wearing a shirt. So per usual, the internet has lots of things to say, most of it about inappropriateness and “raised eyebrows.” The overwhelming response is that young girl in bed with adult man is just not right.

The photo itself is sexy. I can’t deny that. From the black-and-white filter and grainy quality, to Moises’ abs and disheveled hair, to the euphoric glances toward something outside of the frame, the picture is the epitome of dreamy. Romantic tumblr couldn’t have created a more amorous image. It also doesn’t help that terms like “in bed” and “shirtless” imply a sexual ambiance. But I’m not sure how fair it is to presume that any of these sentiments reflect the experience of the two individuals in the photograph.

I won’t be naive and pretend like I don’t get why 13-year-old girl + shirtless adult man + bed doesn’t seem like a winning combination. Personally, I understand why a friendship between 13-year-old girls and 20-year-old men raises flags. Would I ask my daughter where she was and what she was doing on the day this picture was taken to get more clarity? Absolutely. But that’s the thing about parenting — it’s personal. And when I have a daughter I can act on my opinions. But it’s one thing to share personal opinions about the kinds of parenting decisions you would make with your own daughter; it’s another thing for outsiders to impose sexual tropes onto a 13-year-old girl and insist that she is somehow misguided or immoral.

Yet calls for Willows parents, Jada and Will Smith, to intervene in her behavior ring louder than ever. And they reinforce the idea that adults have to control the sexuality of young people — and that they have to do so by keeping kids out of situations like these, regardless of how harmless said situations may be. For girls, we also reinforce the idea that there is no place that is safe from the sexual advances of men (it is important to acknowledge that for some girls that is the case). Most significantly, it reflects our need to believe that if our girls just “do the right thing” or “stay in the right place at the right time,” they won’t become sexual until we are comfortable with it. No one is calling out Moises because in this scenario he is not the one in “danger” or in need of protecting. The purity myth prevails. That’s not about keeping our daughters safe — that’s about us trying to feel better about our own sense of control over our daughters bodies and sexuality.

The truth is, we have no context for this picture. We don’t know who else was there, what Willow and Moises’ relationship is like, how the pair came to be in the same bed, or why Moises was shirtless. Do I have questions? Yup. But they aren’t mine to ask. Willow’s parents have made it clear that they raise their kids in the way that works for their family (and that I think is awesome). I trust the three of them to define was is and isn’t appropriate for Willow.

Avatar Image Sesali wishes she was more Willow-esque in middle school.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/kristophil/ Philip

    It seems difficult for society to find a ballance between public outrage in deffense of a young girl, without reinforcing the idea that women and girls should avoid situations that put them at risk; which puts the responsibility back on them. Society, through media, wants to save girls and blame them at the same time. Loved this article.