Just as I was writing a Facebook post this week, 6-year-old Johanna Colón danced, then tumbled, across my screen.
Johanna, who lives in East Raleigh with her family, exuded confidence during her dance performance to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” at a recent recital.
But it wasn’t just Johanna’s fancy moves that I noticed. Her father, Carlos Colón, can be heard in the now-viral video encouraging his daughter, and it reminded me that my personal feelings aren’t just mine.
Thing is, there’s been a bunch of hoopla lately surrounding celebrity daughters that I believe is unwarranted and unfair and unaligned with the message we ought to shout.
Gender stereotypes and marginalization do enough to strip our girls of self-love and confidence when they’re struggling to mark their spot, embrace their gifts and understand their voice. While we have to keep our girls grounded, we also must urge them to love and express themselves.
And that’s what jumps out at me when I see Johanna tumbling to Pharrell’s song “Happy” in another recital video – and when I hear her daddy say, “Go, Johanna. Go, Boo-Boo!”
When Johanna slips out of a cartwheel, Colón shouts, “Good job, baby! Good job. Shake it off.”
It’s not about my own daughter, this time. So my sound-off is about the criticism that surrounds Willow Smith, 14, the daughter of mega stars Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith, and Little Miss Riley Curry, 2, as she shares the spotlight with her daddy, Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry.
We’ve heard from Jada Pinkett Smith and from Curry’s wife and Riley’s mom, Ayesha Curry.
After photos of Willow some deemed inappropriate reportedly prompted a Child Protective Services investigation, Pinkett Smith counter-criticized in interviews.
“Don’t pollute what’s not dirty,” she reportedly said, and added, “I want my kids to be happy and I want them to be themselves.”
Willow is now a new face of renowned designer Marc Jacobs, who called her “talented, stylish and charming.” He has said he looks for spokeswomen who “evoke a sense of intrigue and inspiration.”
In an op-ed piece on time.com, Ayesha Curry countered sport reporters’ complaints that Riley was disruptive during her daddy’s post-game interviews when she waved, rapped in the mic, played peek-a-boo and shushed her dad.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Ayesha Curry wrote. “And my daughter was who she is – vibrant, spunky and full of life. I hope she carries this with her through adulthood.”
‘Give them wings’
The Colóns agree when it comes to their own daughter. Johanna, who reads above grade level and loves to cook, is self-made.
“That attitude and personality, that’s who she is on stage,” said Johanna’s mom, Elissa Colón. She said Johanna is fiery but focused off stage.
“She lets loose on stage,” Carlos Colón said. “If that’s who she is, you can’t really stop her. I don’t want my child to be something that she’s not. My daughter is who she is.”
Elissa echoed her husband and the Hollywood moms.
“We give them roots and we give them wings,” she said. “If you ground them – they have their morals and they have their values and they know who they are – then you can give them their wings to fly. You have to allow them to express themselves and be who they are.”
That’s what the world has seen of Johanna, said Heather Fitts, owner of Heather’s Dance, the Knightdale studio where Johanna has trained since she was 2.
“Johanna is a very humble and a very sweet child,” Fitts said. “She doesn’t try to outdo anyone. That’s just her God-given talent.”
Johanna has a “natural niche for rhythm and absorbing choreography” and “she knows how to perform it well,” Fitts said.
“But I never want people to ever think Johanna is made to perform that way,” she said. “That’s just who Johanna is. Johanna doesn’t realize she’s talented. She’s just being herself.
“It’s not something you can train somebody to do. If you have it, you have it.”