When it comes to opening up about her struggles and personal journey, there are no taboo subjects for Willow Smith, one half of innovative rock duo The Anxiety alongside bandmate and collaborator Tyler Cole. In March this year, the 19-year-old spent 24 hours inside a glass box as part of a silent performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles—shaving her head in the process—to raise further awareness about anxiety. And her determination to use her platform to speak up about life’s most urgent issues doesn’t stop there.
This year alone saw Smith join forces with environmental justice platform EcoResolution, push for active change during the Black Lives Matter movement, and co-create an album about mental health during quarantine—all while continuing to spark creativity as part of fashion collective MSFTSrep alongside her brother, Jaden, with its psychedelic designs. You will also have probably spotted her with actors Rami Malek and Maisie Williams, as well as musicians Troye Sivan and Jackson Wang as the faces of Cartier’s relaunched Pasha watch.
Here, in a personal essay for Vogue, Smith discusses how she’s managed to adopt a new self-care routine in the middle of a turbulent year, and dives into the contradictory relationship with social media we need to collectively unpack.
“When you’re forced to be with your thoughts, be by yourself, it can be scary and uncomfortable. I feel that every day. But I also feel the need to ask myself, ‘Why am I so uncomfortable?’ ‘Where are these thoughts coming from?’ ‘Why can’t I just sit by myself and feel at peace and at home?’ It’s been about digging into those questions in a way that we wouldn’t get to do, if it weren’t for the time we’ve had to reflect this year. If we’re given the opportunity to hang out with friends or go to a party, most people would rather do that than take time to sit and hash out those demons and insecure feelings. I feel like a lot of people, including myself, have been given that opportunity during quarantine.
“We’re all spending so much more time at home, so naturally we’re going to gravitate to our electronics, which can be a good thing. Like many, I’ve been connecting with friends and family. Social media allows us to share information about the Black Lives Matter movement, or put crucial resources on our stories or profiles about things going on in the world. It has given people awareness and the means to take action, which maybe they wouldn’t have if they didn’t see it on their timeline or feed. The negative part of social media is that it can create feelings of inadequacy—we need to examine the debilitating and damaging aspects that social media can bring into our lives, especially when we’re using it as a crutch in times of uncertainty.
“It’s so important for people to speak on the injustices that happen in the world, and on all different kinds of platforms, not just social media. It feels as though that same feeling—that we need to be accepted—can sometimes even seep into activism work when we’re using social media as our main way to connect with the world.
“It is really important for each individual to get to a place where they can cultivate that level of awareness and compassion within themselves and give that to others”
“The internal journey is the most important one a human will ever take. I’m slowly realising that until I take the time and energy to look into myself and truly heal the wounds I’ve accumulated over this lifetime, until I bring my heart and mind to a state of pure compassion and egolessness, I’m still going to be contributing to the negativity in the world in some way or another.
“As someone trying to combat this, during quarantine I picked up bullet journaling [a way of tracking your habits, moods, goals, workouts and health] in order to dive deeper into the idea of self-awareness—my awareness. Afterwards, I felt as though I was seeing these patterns in myself, in terms of my mental health as well as the physical. Sometimes you don’t realise important, subtle changes in your inner life when you’re not keenly paying attention.
“It is really important for each individual to get to a place where they can cultivate that level of awareness and compassion within themselves and give that to others. And in reality, that’s all I ever want to put out into the world and for people to feel from me.
“There’s so much going on in the world right now. The bottom line I always want to express in my art, and in everything I do, is that when any human being stands up and decides to accept everything about themselves with love and compassion, and decides to treat others the same way, that challenges every single system that the ‘authorities’ have put in place for the human race.”