Lil Tay’s brand is built on shock value—she’s already dropped the N-bomb, made references to slanging bricks of drugs, and makes it rain with $100 bills. But in a newly surfaced video, the Instagram star appears to have upped the ante by smoking from a hookah pipe, raising questions as to how far Lil Tay—or her managers—will go for viral fame.
The video, seemingly first posted on Twitter by WorldStarHipHop, shows a blurred out Lil Tay smoking from a hookah dressed in her pajamas. After she takes “a hit” and exhales a cloud of smoke she coughs and says “oh my god.” The person holding the camera laughs and another man, whom WorldStarHipHop claims is Tay’s brother, grabs at her as if trying to get her to take another hit.
Of course, it’s impossible to say what Lil Tay, who now has over 2 million Instagram followers, is actually smoking in the video. But it’s certainly a bit troubling that she seems to be graduating from mostly talking smack about being the “youngest flexer of the century” to doing something like smoking.
“Her mother needs to get a visit from child protective services,” Gossip columnist Perez Hilton said in a video about the hookah footage. His statement, harsh as it sounds, echoes what many are saying about Lil Tay’s mom and brother, the latter of whom is reportedly managing her videos.
Toronto-area psychologist Sara Dimerman told VICE she believes Lil Tay is being exploited, and that her childhood innocence is being taken away from her as she’s being “adultified” in these videos, from her dyed bleach blonde hair to her foul-mouthed rants.
“I’d love to see a child protection agency prohibit the adults in her world from continuing to rob her of her innocence,” she said.
Dimerman said children love attention, but she thinks the kind of attention Lil Tay is receiving and the image she’s portraying to the world may be damaging long term.
“She doesn't have the life experience to make an informed decision… or to realize the impact on her future by behaving in this manner. The adults do know and continue to encourage this. Shame on them.”
Jennifer Shapka, a developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia, told VICE said it doesn’t look like Lil Tay is surrounded by the healthiest family dynamic, but she said there are lots of kids in the same situation that we never hear about.
“If we look at hockey parents, are they exploiting their kids as much? They want their kids to go to the NHL, they’re putting in 20 hours a week. This is really because it’s on social media and we can see it’s easy to identify it as something unique and worse.”
On the flip side, Shapka said Lil Tay’s aggressive online footprint could haunt her in the future.
“She’s now going to be known as a kid who was smoking hookah at nine years old,” she said. “She’s is going to have an incredibly difficult time shedding this image. This will follow her for her whole life, every school she goes to, every job she applies for… And if she didn’t have a choice, it is more concerning.”
But Jesse Miller, founder of Mediated Reality, a North Vancouver firm that raises awareness around social media-related issues, told VICE it’s hard to know if Lil Tay will actually look back on this time period with regret. As of right now, “she’s being taught it’s not a big deal,” he said, adding the world may not even care if a few years, as is the nature of viral fame.
As far as intervention, he said if Lil Tay, whose family is from Vancouver, was enrolled in a BC school, the principal of that school would be required to address the issue. Many of Tay’s videos claim she lives in Beverly Hills and in a recent Good Morning America interview she said she had officially moved to Hollywood.
Miller said if that’s the case, she would still be entitled to protections, the same as any child actor. He told VICE the media also has a role to play in asking about things like where she’s enrolled in school, whether or not she can legally work in the US, and even her real name.
On the Good Morning America appearance, Lil Tay said “no one’s forcing me to do this. That’s not true that she’s trying to make money off me,” in reference to her mother Angela Tian. Tian was a Vancouver realtor until she recently quit after allegedly using her boss’ car and properties in her daughter’s videos without permission.
According to the National Post, Lil Tay’s mom has previously praised her daughter for attracting the attention of Hollywood and said “some people don’t get the joke.”
Tian told Good Morning America her daughter “has a passion and a dream” and that the family chooses to ignore haters.”
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