Jajube Mandiela (Chantay)'s Natural Hair

Posted on Sep 24, 2010 by Mary

TWO WEEKS 'TIL NEW DEGRASSI!! Eeeeeee!

Which means it's time to gear up and get in a Degrassi frame of mind. How 'bout a cast interview?

During Degrassi: The Boiling Point this summer, I did a post about Chantay. And in the comments, people said some really nasty things about her hair -- and some positive things! But the negative things upset me, 'cause I had recently watched the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair, about the pressure African American women feel to straighten their hair, and the expensive, painful hassle they go through to do so.

So I wanted to talk to Jajube Mandiela (who plays Chantay) about why she likes her hair just the way it is. Here's our interview:

Jajube Mandiela, Degrassi's Chantay, keeps her hair natural OK, so, what's your personal hair history?

Basically, since I was 4, my mom started dreadlocking my hair. So my hair has been in dreadlocks 'til last December [2009]. It was pretty long; in all previous seasons that I was in Degrassi, those were dreadlocks, those were all my real hair. 'Cause some people think those were extensions but that's all me!

And then I had it for so long, I was like, 'wait, if I don't ever change... if I don't do it now, while I'm still young, if I wait 'til I'm older I might be too scared to change!' I was curious what my hair was like un-dreadlocked, so I decided to cut it. And I cut it myself! One by one, which was awkward, but fun! And then I was left with all of my natural hair, very short. And since then, I'm just growing it out to see what that's like to do!

...More than anything, I love the lower maintenance of this hair. Because the dreadlocks are awesome, but I would be kind of finicky and I always wanted them to look really good, so I would put a lot of maintenance into them and be like "oh, I'm so tired now!"

That's awesome that your mom dreaded your hair from a really young age... so you never had pressure to relax it?

Yeah, I actually don't know what that would be like! I think I would probably freak out like, "What are you doing? Why is this happening?"

Because my understanding is that it's a painful and expensive process, but that women go through it because it's just the norm -- in America especially.

Yeah... because a lot of people feel like when they have natural hair, that they look weird. Since it's not part of the beauty aesthetic of North America, it just makes them stick out. And I think a lot of people don't like to stick out, they like to just blend in.

[My friends who do relax their hair], they're like "it's a hassle..." but then still, they're afraid to NOT do it. It's like their comfort.

Which then becomes a cycle, because people aren't used to seeing unprocessed hair... so then it becomes 'not the norm.'

Exactly. Which makes me so sad! Because actually, when I was considering cutting my hair, I was spending a lot of time watching TV and looking at different ads, because I need to know as an actor what I can do with my hair. And I wanted to see if anyone already has natural hair -- especially short hair. And I was so disappointed! Not only actors but like singers, dancers, everyone processes their hair -- even if it was short it was still processed.

I even went even more in depth because at first I was only watching people of African descent's hair. But then I started watching everybody and I was like 'Oh my God, even Caucasian girls -- if they have curly hair, it's straightened.' Like Nina Dobrev, her hair is so curly and so beautiful, but it's constantly straightened on Vampire Diaries. I realized just in general, curly hair is straightened on everyone.

It really disappointed me that all media were promoting to get rid of your curl, and if you did have a curl for it to be super, super controlled.

Have you ever gotten any pushback from agents or casting people -- has anyone encouraged you to do anything different with it?

No, not really. I've been really lucky and people just haven't commented.

I haven't seen any Internet comments because I try to refrain -- I think I'd go crazy. I would have expected more bad comments [back when I had] the dreadlocks, because I know people have negative associations with it.

I think some of the comments were just coming from people who don't understand African hair. They were just saying things like "why doesn't her hair look like Beyoncé's?" and stuff like that.

No way! That's so funny... that makes me totally happy that I can help the dialogue start, for them to realize that it's because this is my hair, and that's her fake hair -- that she loves! But that it's not real hair. That makes me really happy that I'm able to challenge people's perception of what black people's hair is, and for them to actually even realize... this happened actually with a friend of mine a few months ago. I was talking to her about my hair and she realized, 'so you mean black people, they can never have straight hair naturally?' And I was like 'No!' And I realized so many people don't know that it's always processed when it's straight, unless they're mixed with other backgrounds, obviously.

And so I love that I can make awareness about that -- that yes, this is how most black people's hair looks. It's all different [from person to person], the textures. But it's not dead straight.

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