Jewish Journal

I Whip My Hair, Beard, and JewFro

by Orit Arfa

December 29, 2010 | 7:20 pm

Orit's fabulous fro

First there was Jaden Smith, son of powerhouse couple Will and Jada Smith, in that god-awful “coat on/coat off” remake of Karate Kid. Clearly, this is how that movie was conceived.

Jaden: Daddy, can I be in another movie, this time without you telling me exactly what to do like you did in The Pursuit of Happyness? Karate Kid is my all time favorite!

Will: Sure, son. You’re so handsome. You’ll look just like me when you grow up! I’ll make some calls.

The result was one of the worst castings in one of the worst remakes in movie history. Jaden was way too self-conscious as an actor, evident in those Paris Hilton-esque lip-puckers in almost every scene. And he was way too small and scrawny for a character who’s supposed to kick Chinese butt and fall for a pretty Asian girl at least a foot taller than him.  (Yes, they kiss. Spoiler. Good. Don’t see it.)

Now there’s his little sister, Willow Smith and her gargantuan hit, “Whip My Hair.”

The song must have been conceived as follows:

Willow: Daddy, can I be a pop star? Rihanna has been my favorite since I was two.

Will: Sure, daughter. You’re so pretty. You’ll look just like me when I grow-up. Why else did I name you Will-ow? I’ll make some calls.

When I first saw the video for “Whip My Hair”, I thought: Smiths, do you feed your kids? She’s also so small and scrawny—too small and scrawny to be batting her eyes like a vixen. The tight, colorful urban hipster clothing she sports might have looked sexy, cool, or stylish on someone like Rihanna, but on her nine-year-old shapeless body they look plastic fashions that come with dress up dolls.

My first instinct was to call the Office of Child Labor.

But—oh, man—I couldn’t get that stupid song out of my head. It’s an anthem about whipping hair as a show of defiance, and since I have a big JewFro (comes from my mother’s Iraqi side), I have a lot of hair to whip.

It’s like she’s telling the world—you think I’m too young to do this, right? Well, I whip my hair at ya!

I don’t know if her parents should be applauded for their non-conformity or chastised for bringing their daughter into such an adult world of scrutiny and sexuality. In an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Willow said Michael Jackson was her role model. Isn’t that worrisome? And what kind of tutors are they getting her? In her recent television debut on “The Ellen Show”, Willow makes up the word “pleasurous” to describe the act of singing.

Willow: Say what you want, girl. I’m a gazillionare, and I don’t need to know how to write—while your writin’ a blog that no one reads. I whip my hair at ya! (Misspelling intentional.)

Orit: Excuse me? Who’s the “girl” here? Writing is PLEASURABLE to me! I’m well-read, educated, trying to make the world a better place. I whip my JewFro at you!

Hair fight ensues. It’s JewFro versus Afro. But no one wins because our hairs just get tangled.

But is her childhood normalcy a sacrifice we should let her make as she impacts the world through quality pop and gives us something fun to watch and talk about? The song is already a part of pop culture with spoofs abounding. When you think about it, the individualistic message is simple but punchy, even from a tween: just do your thing, whether it’s starring in a deranged music video at age nine…or growing a beard as a religious Jew.

Chassidic comedian Mendy Pellin (whom I interviewed for the February issue of TRIBE) has given Jewish meaning to Willow’s song. In a hilarious weird-Al style video, he defends his forked, straggly beard by whipping his beard with mustard and ketchup.

Pellin has inspired me to give the song my own twist. Let’s turn this vehicle for Willow into a Jewish anthem. On a changing-the-world level, let’s sing it to all the Jew haters of the world: Pay no attention to them haters cuz we whip em off / and we ain’t doing nothing wrong/ so don’t tell us nothing, we’re just tryna to live in our land….

On a more particular, mundane level, let’s appropriate the song for us Jewish women with frothy curls. When I was younger I always envied classically American straight and blond hair. Michelle Pfeiffer was my heroine. It took me adulthood to embrace my Sephardi features, and especially my wild, curly—and yes, fabulous—hair. So to all those straightening irons and blow-dryers out there that want to flatten the ethnic Jew out of us, I say: watch me whip my JewFro back and forth!


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