Willow Smith — daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith — is the sort of person for whom the phrase “old soul” was written. At just 19 years old, she’s already headlong into her career. She understands herself and the world she wants to live in. But despite the fame of her parents, Willow Smith has remained a mysterious persona, at times shunning the stardom she seems destined for. Here is the untold truth of Willow Smith.
Willow had an unconventional upbringing
Born on October 31, 2000, Willow Camille Reign Smith is the youngest daughter of Will and Jada. She has a brother Jaden, who is two years older than her. Their parents tried to raise them in an unorthodox way.
“When they were really young, we did a thing called the circle of safety,” Will Smith told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. “Within the circle of safety, the kids are allowed to say anything that they want, they can tell us anything that they did, and they can cleanse it all out, and they don’t get in trouble.”
Willow and Jaden are bluntly open and honest to this very day. In fact they’re almost famous just for being forthright and speaking their minds.
Willow has already made a mark on camera
Willow’s first film role was a small part in I Am Legend, starring her father, back in 2007. She followed that up with family-friendly fare like Kit Kittredge: An American Girl and voice work in Adventure Time and Madagascar 2. She was supposed to star in the 2014 remake of the musical Annie, but she aged out of the role, which went to Quvenzhané Wallis instead.
Although Willow has shifted her focus to music, she’s still on screen regularly. You can see her as co-host (along with her mother and grandmother) of a Facebook web series called Red Table Talk. Their show is Facebook’s most popular series, with over 300 million views.
Willow recorded her first hit song at age 9
Willow was the youngest person ever to be signed to Jay-Z’s label Roc Music, when she was just 9 years old. She released her first hit song “Whip My Hair” when she was 10. Since then she’s had three studio solo albums (Ardipithecus, The 1st, and Willow) and decent hits from each of them. Her style has evolved from pop to alternative R&B, and she plays both piano and guitar.
After experiencing the challenges that come with success at such a young age, Willow almost gave it all up. “I tried so hard to leave [music] behind because it just caused me so much pain that I was like ‘is this really what I’m supposed to be doing with my life?’” she told Beats 1 in 2019. “But music was just like ‘I love you, come back to me,’ so it’s definitely for real for real my ride or die.”
Willow has struggled with self-harm and depression
Willow has been candid about how fame at such a young age affected her. In an act of rebellion, she shaved her head in 2012. And in 2018, Willow revealed that at her lowest point in her pre-teen years, she engaged in self-harm. “I would have to say, honestly, I feel like I lost my sanity at one point,” Willow revealed to her mom and grandmother on their web show Red Table Talk.
“It was after that whole ‘Whip My Hair’ thing… I was kind of just in this gray area of, ‘Who am I? Do I have a purpose? Is there anything I can do besides this?'” In the lull after the tour and promotion of her hit song, Willow reached her darkest point. “It was just so crazy, and I was plunged into this black hole, and I was, like, cutting myself.”
“I honestly felt like I was experiencing so much emotional pain,” Willow said, but she was able to pull herself out of it. “One night, I was just like, ‘This is psychotic.’ And after that, I just stopped.”
Willow says practicing yoga and Buddhism helps her deal with her stresses now.
Willow publicly came out as bisexual at 18
In June 2019, 18-year-old Willow came out as bisexual. Additionally, she has said she could see herself in a polyamorous relationship. “I love men and women equally, and so I would definitely want one man, one woman. I feel like I could be polyfidelitous with those two people,” she revealed on Red Table Talk.
“I’m not the kind of person that is constantly looking for new sexual experiences. I focus a lot on the emotional connection and I feel like if I were to find two people of different genders that I really connected with and we had a romantic and sexual connection, I don’t feel like I would feel the need to try to go find more.”
She credits her open-minded mother with raising her in such a way that she can comfortably break paradigms. “Listen, you know me, Willow,” her mother said. “Whatever makes you happy.”
Willow had been fighting against gender norms for years before she came out. Her brother Jaden has also taken a strong stance, embracing gender-fluid fashion. “Gender norms put people in boxes and don’t allow them to really get to their full potential as a human being,” Willow told Refinery29 in 2017. “Slowly but surely, dudes are starting to wear nail polish and become more in tune with their feelings. Change is happening, and it’s very exciting.”
Willow shaved her head (again) for performance art
In March 2020, Willow participated in a unique art installation as part of LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. For 24 hours, she and her bandmate Tyler Cole sat in a glass-enclosed room while they explored the “eight stages of anxiety” one by one. Visitors could watch the pair cycle through paranoia, rage, sadness, numbness, euphoria, interest, compassion, and acceptance. The walls were lined with canvas for viewers to write messages.
The installation was named “The Anxiety,” which is also the name of their band and self-titled album. At the end of the 24 hours, Cole shaved Willow’s head as part of showing “acceptance.” Jada Pinkett Smith posted a video of it proudly on Instagram.