Willow Smith Margiela
Credit: Courtesy Maison Margiela

Growing up in the spotlight can be tough. Just ask Willow Smith.

She made her acting debut at just seven years old, appearing opposite her father, Will Smith, in the 2007 sci-fi drama I Am Legend. The following year, she landed a role in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl and voiced a character in the sequel to Madagascar, alongside her mother, Jada Pinkett Smith. Having already achieved mainstream success in Hollywood by age eight, Smith decided to set her sights on the music industry. She was signed to Jay Z’s label Roc Nation, and on the week of her 10th birthday, she reached superstar status with the release of her hit song, “Whip My Hair.”

While her famous last name and Hollywood connections undoubtedly helped launch her career, life in the public eye came at a price. So at an early age, Smith decided to rebel against the Hollywood machine. As a kid, she ran away from security guards whose job was to keep her safe while her parents were working (more on that below). Perhaps her most public act of defiance to date came in 2012, when she shaved her entire head in the middle of her “Whip My Hair” tour. Losing her long locks sent a clear message to both her fans and her inner circle. According to Smith, now 18, the drastic move was “100 percent” an act of rebellion.

Willow Smith Margiela
Credit: Jeffrey Mayer/Getty Images

“I was just over it,” Smith tells InStyle. “The truth of the song is ‘do want you want;’ it doesn't actually have to do with hair. ‘Whip your hair’ is just a symbol for doing whatever you want. So in a way, I feel like it wasn't even a rebellion because the song was saying that, and I was doing whatever I wanted and just being wild — but obviously, it was a rebellion to people who thought it meant something different. I was just over it; I was literally so done and said, ‘I’m going to show people that I'm not attached to this.’”

Since then, Smith has been the one calling the shots in her life and career. Gone are the days of her viral pop hits, now replaced by raw and instrumentally driven tracks. An early adapter of gender-nonconforming fashion, Smith has swapped out the girly red carpet dresses from her youth in favor of edgier looks.

Though she may not be a fan of labels, there’s one that Smith is proud to rep. She was just named one of six “Mutinists” in a campaign for Maison Margiela’s new fragrance, Mutiny — and she finds the title to be more than appropriate. “Ever since I was little, I've always been rebellious and just doing my own thing,” she says. “So it feels amazing, because it’s fitting. And I think it's really inspiring.”

Willow Smith Margiela
Credit: Courtesy Maison Margiela

We asked Smith to fill us in on her rebellious past (and present), the badass women she looks up to most, and her advice for other girls who want to break the mold. Keep reading for her biggest revelations.

On rebelling as a kid…

“When I was younger, I used to run away from security and then I would watch them and laugh while they thought they lost me. Obviously if you think you lost someone’s child, you're going to be looking around, like, being so afraid. So I would just watch them, laughing like, ‘Ha, ha, ha! They're having such a hard time!’ It was totally not an adult thing to do. As I got older, it started to be more in my art and in what I was wearing [that I would rebel] instead of just laughing at security guards who are stressed.”

Willow Smith Margiela
Credit: Franziska Krug/Getty Images

On defying her parents…

"[Running away from security] was sort of a way of rebelling against my parents, because they were like, ‘These people need to be with you,’ or whatever. Also, when I was younger I wanted to dress myself and I would just wear crazy things. I'd be like, ‘No! You can't tell me what to wear. I'm going to wear these purple pants with this yellow duck shirt and my sandals or whatever it was. Just crazy, crazy stuff like that.”

On rebelling in her career…

“It was in the music that I was making — going away from pop and sort of coming into more what’s, like, me. Instrumentation. I feel like that was kind of my rebellion, severing that tie with pop music.”

On going with her gut…

“I was always afraid [to break the rules]. There were three big experiences I had — shaving my head, not doing a full album of pop music and being like, ‘Nah, I'm done with this genre,’ and then saying no to [starring in my father’s film production of] Annie — where I was terrified because everything was already in the works. It was being planned, 'set in stone,' so to speak. I was terrified [to back out] but I just really had to be like, ‘I can't do this.’

"There are certain kinds of rebellion; there is rebellion where it’s like, ‘Whatever, I don't care.’ And then there is rebellion where your intuition is telling you something and it's coming from your heart. You're like, ‘I need to shift this path.’ It was an intuition thing where I knew that I needed to do it. All of the emotions that came with it, inevitably, were not pleasant. I wasn't completely sure of anything at the time. But when something inside of you is just telling you no, you have to follow that no matter what. I was just grateful that what I needed to do was so clear in my mind. When you set a goal and you're like, ‘This is what needs to happen,’ then that's it right there. That's all you need.”

Willow Smith Margiela
Credit: Courtesy Maison Margiela

On challenging conventional beauty standards…

“I look different than most girls who are featured in editorial magazines and fashion and all of that. So I feel all of that, just being a young black woman with natural hair. Those things are a rebellion in themselves.”

On rejecting gender stereotypes…

“Both me and my brother are very expressive with our clothes. I feel like, more than anything, it's taking the taboo off of exploring different parts of yourself — that's what it's really about. It comes into fighting those gender norms and everything, but I feel like it starts as just a desire to explore different parts of yourself through clothes, through music, and through art. That's just really the seed of what it is.

"It's a weird dichotomy because there’s a lot of people [in older generations who are] against it and are like, ‘No, this is how it needs to be and da, da, da.’ But I feel like that's only happening because there is such a large group of people starting to realize that this is the future. This is where it's going. Every time a big change is happening in the world, there's always going to be a heightened sense of confrontation between those people that think another way. And I feel like that's really what's happening now.”

Willow Smith Margiela
Credit: Courtesy Maison Margiela

On the “mutinists” she looks up to…

“Definitely Ani DiFranco. Her memoir is coming out and I'm so excited. Yara Shahidi. Amandla [Stenberg]. Nai Palm — she's one of my favorites. Those are my top right now, but there’s too many to count, really. Gloria Steinem. Bell Hooks. All mutinists ... there are so many, honestly.”

On who taught her to embrace her true self…

“Definitely my parents. But I kind of got used to it when I was very young. Growing up with the internet and people always commenting negative things, you're constantly seeing that. I feel like it kind of just got cemented in me that that's always going to be there. You might as well do whatever you want at the end of the day, because someone's always going to have something to say ... Now, I usually don't look at my comments unless it's a family member or friend who is commenting me.”

On her advice to younger girls…

“I believe that each and every one of us is here for a reason, and that reason is definitely not to feel self-hatred or to try to conform and do what everyone else is doing. The most important and the most beautiful and creative people, almost always reject what society places upon them because it doesn't work for the growth of self-love. That journey for everyone is different, so don't think that someone who is telling you one thing really knows what's best for you. You're the only one who knows what's going to make you happy and what's going to grow self-love within yourself. So whatever that is, you need to go for that and keep your focus on that.”

On setting her own limits of rule-breaking…

“Obviously you don't want to hurt anyone. You don't want to be homophobic or sexist or racist or any of those things. To me, what breaking the rules really means is breaking those categories that have been put upon us since society began and still get elaborated on and perpetuated by the authority. I feel like that's really what freedom is, just pushing back against those walls.”

On feeling in control…

“Honestly, I feel like as you grow up, you come into yourself more. Now that I'm 18, I'm for real like, ‘Okay, this is in my own control.’ It's a beautiful feeling. Your independence and your sense of self only grows more and more as time goes on, and I'm just so happy to have the wisdom that I have now.”