Last Word with Chantal Raymond, Miss Jamaica World 2010
Since winning the Miss Jamaica World 2010 pageant Chantal Raymond has entered a firestorm. I was curious to hear from the Harvard Law School graduate who had won the competition after entering a second time. I thought she would have been self-aggrandizing having traveled the world and educated at an Ivy League school. However, I was impressed that Chantal Raymond was quite the opposite-very sincere, frank, intelligent and has that ease to make you smile. Do I think she’ll represent us well in China? Do I think she was the best girl on the night in the competition? Yes, Yes and she’s a royal Jamaican woman we can call beautiful with a purpose. Here is the interview with Chantal Raymond and she’ll have the Last Word.
CD: You entered Miss Jamaica World in 2006 and was placed 5th overall. Were you pressured this time around to do better?
Chantal Raymond: No, actually entering in 2006 helped me this time around because I really knew what to expect first of all and secondly if I placed fifth and I didn’t really put the effort in I mean I was just having fun, honestly I was 20 years old. So now I knew that I had to get better than fifth because I’m giving it 100 per cent so it was not a safety net, I know I’d have to do better but this time I came to win.
CD: Was the pageant experience any different this time?
CR: It was a lot more competitive. I’m not sure if I’m gauging it right, I’m not sure of I was more competitive because I was going after the crown and not just having the experience like last time or the girls were competitive and it could be a mixture of both but this year it was a lot more competitive than the last time I did it which we’re all just friends because we were having fun.
CD: Could you mention some of the girls you thought were really after the crown?
CR: I know that, the first name that comes to mind is, do I have to give names? (laughter) You’re going to make me have enemies, do I have to? (laughter) Really.
CD: Not that, they are being furiously competitive in their attitude but more that they were competition for you, they’re the one you thought could win.
CR: Well, Simone Poot, she’s a sweetheart, she’s the nicest girl I’ve met. We got very close in the competition because we were roommates when we went to Hanover for a week. But just her personality, she’s so sweet, she’s beautiful and so she was strong competition. Alexia McLean she’s fun bubbly energetic or whatever but if you look at her she’s drop dead gorgeous – if you see her in person I mean people often compare her to Lisa Hanna because she’s so beautiful. So these girls definitely stood out for me in the pageant.
CD: What was it like losing the 2006 pageant and what did you learn from that experience to prepare you for 2010?
CR: You say that I lost, I never ever felt that I lost that pageant I mean I was 4th runner-up that for me at the time since my goal was never to win, that was exciting, I was very excited. I did not know directly what I got from, that pageant but afterwards just from speaking with other people I saw the benefits. My mother told me that I developed an awareness of myself that I never had before. I’ve always been confident and just learning about myself and who I am that came from the pageant. And of course you know I developed and got better and better at it over the years. I’m queen of networking. I can walk into any room and relate to anybody and everything. My career advisors at Harvard told me all the time but I know those are skills that I’ve picked up from my pageants over the years.
CD: What was it like being an ethnic minority at an Ivy League school?
CR: So Harvard Law is a little different I think because outside of the historically black universities they have the highest number of black students, so there’s 150 of us which is a lot for a non-historically black school….and so it was great. Of course you are closer to all the black people because we’re in the Black Law Students’ Association together so it was a fantastic experience. I never felt that there was anything missing in any way and in my class there were 50 or 60 other black people, so that was good. Further than that we had a lot of students of Asian decent and Hispanics and others. Because of the different organisations we sort of all have our own little friendships going, and we got closer through student organisations. And so, one thing that I missed while I was there is I never felt the Caribbean influence that I’ve had all my life growing up. Growing up here, then I went to the University of Florida where we had a Jamaican Students’ Association, separate from our Caribbean Students’ Association separate from our Black Students’ Association, there were so many people you could branch off but into groups but at Harvard they had nothing and I don’t know if you saw from my bio I developed a Caribbean Law Association for Caribbean students.
CD: What prompted that?
CR: Well my thing was I just missed having people around me like I’ll have a conversation with someone and then you find out wow they were born I dunno St. Vincent or something or they have parents from St. Thomas but I would only know in casual conversations because we never had anything set in place to bring us together. So I missed having some sort of Caribbean influence and then I also realized that my Co-President and I, we were both realized that we were at this fantastic institution. This is right after Obama had won the election both he and his wife are alumni of Harvard Law School. So we’re like, these people are going on to be senators and they’re going to run the world one day. There was a Kennedy in the class before mine and a Princess. They’re very influential people at our school and we just wanted to make sure that when they’re making all the big deals they don’t forget our little islands, because Harvard had no… I’m sorry I talk a lot. You can feel free to paraphrase. [laughter]
But before Harvard had no kind of focus at all like it was hard for us to get a Faculty Sponsor, you need that to be a student organisation and because there’s nobody that focuses on the Caribbean but luckily you know we formed the organisation. I think our faculty sponsor has now met someone to get married to a Jamaican that’s the closest we could get to an actual Caribbean influence. Next year we are going to send some students to Cuba. We’ve done so much. We raised a lot of money to donate to Haiti after the tragedy. So much…They are 40 of us I didn’t know that there were 40 Caribbean people. That was my Co-Presidents concerned, she was like ‘so we’re going to have a Caribbean organisation and it will be the three of us?’ ‘No there are more out there trust me, trust me. We just need to form it and they will come.” So they came and it was fantastic.
I have to keep the rest of the answers short. [laughter].
CD: 18 years ago did you ever dream about being a beauty queen?
CR: How old was I 18 years ago? Hmmm, I’m getting old; I can’t do the math [laughter].
CD: 6 [laughter]
CR: Well when I was six; I don’t think I was thinking that far ahead but there was a stage of my life I went through when I was a chubby girl and so [chuckles] I don’t think that being a beauty queen was ever the goal but for my mother it was because, apparently, she named me after someone that competed in the Miss Jamaica World pageant the year I was born, which is very interesting so that’s how I got my name but… no, I think it’s something I just fell into. I started modelling when I was 16; I went to a modelling school. You know when something interested me or the opportunity presented itself I went after it.
CD: You mentioned you battled weight issues, how was that?
CR: People say issue but I kinda like when I have more weight on me, I’m rounder [laughter] and look nice. So I don’t think I have an issue. I like myself no matter the size. I have different advantages.
CD: What was your heaviest weight?
CR: Oh gosh, I think I went up to 170 lbs.
CD: Which is not heavy for someone your height?
CR: Yeah, its not heavy, exactly but I definitely had 40 lbs more than I am now. But yeah, I feel so far I look good. When I was growing up before I had my growth spurt, when I had the weight on it did show because I had the extra baby fat but I was always happy. I don’t think I lost the weight at that point I think I just grew and it sort of
CR: Exactly (laughter)
CD: Are you into fashion? Who is your favourite designer?
CR: No, not that much, I mean I don’t study it or study designers. I am not into brands so to speak. I just like stuff that look good.
CD: How would you describe your style?
CR: I like things that look good. I think I like bright things and things that stand out. I like reds and gold. Definitely into bright colours as you can see red is my favourite colour but I am the type of person that I don’t go after one particular style but I’ll try on a million things and wear what looks good on me, that’s what I’ll wear.
CD: What’s your favourite comfort food?
CR: [whisper) Chocolate [laughter]. I love, love, love chocolate! Love ice cream. Cookie-dough ice cream. I love sweet things. You know what? Since I can’t have chocolate, to get my sugar, I’ll go to bulla and bun. I’ll eat so much bulla.
CD: You’ll get your sugar rush on.
CR: Yeah! I just love the taste of it and it’s bad because I live with my grandparents and I tell them don’t buy it and they do and then I’ll eat the whole thing in one night. It’s very bad, it’s very bad, but I love sweet things but chocolate is my main thing, but ow I’m off it, ’cause I’ll eat too much of it. So, now I’m on bulla and bun. [laughter]
CD: What do you do to stay in shape and do you have a diet?
CR: Right now not so much during the pageant I was doing high protein, low carbs for the most part, and lots of exercise. Lots of exercise. Now I’m very toned I think sometimes I’m too toned so I’d like to back off a little bit. See my 6 pack abs [gestures like a rapper then chuckles. So you, I’m trying to come down a little bit. I love exercising, its fun.
CD: What’s your most embarrassing moment?
CR: In life?
CD: Yeah! A real one!
CR: Let me think….I know. So I love to travel. That’s my favorite thing to do in the world and, two years ago, I did a Europe trip. I went to London, Venice and Paris. So anyway we went to Paris and we found this really nice hip-hop club. I was with my friends from school from Harvard, and so we were there looking very nice. I had on my red dress [I told you red was my favourite colour) and red heels. Actually it was these heels [gestures to her feet laughing]. Okay. So I had them on and I walked into the club, we both look nice and walking in the front door we checked our coats ’cause it was winter in Paris and we are going down the stairs and I get to the second last step and trip and fell, fell… like tumbled over the last two steps and fell flat on my foot and I’m in these heels which are like 5-6 inches so I twisted my ankle and I was in soooo much pain. Oh my gosh! But mind you these stairs are at the beginning of the club so everybody saw and I was so embarrassed. I just got up and try to fake it and sat down then I danced the whole night. Whatever! But for the rest of the trip my ankle was messed up but I was so embarrassed. Honestly, so embarrassed. In Paris, of all places, where people care what you look like! [laughter].
CD: Are you single?
CR: Yes, I am.
CD: What tip would you give to a guy if he wants to approach a girl; to approach even you?
CR: To approach me? Well, I like men with personality. I feel that honesty is the first thing. If you win me over with your personality, then it will go a long way. Persistence. Persistence always wins me over. Be persistent, not stalkerish. Persistent…Just show your personality and you’ll be good to go.
CD: What will you look forward to most in the next year?
CR: I don’t know. I’ve been really open to the possibilities. I don’t want to make too many expectations for myself because I just feel like there’s just so much that can come from this that I couldn’t even plan. So, I’m just very open to the possibilities and very excited to be in the position where I can do the things that I always wanted to do; like I’ve always wanted to start a scholarship programme. And so, I’d love to use the year of my reign to fun other students’ education. My education was primarily funded through scholarships. So, I don’t know… I’m just excited at all the possibilities.
CD: Did you watch the Miss Universe pageant this year?
CD: What did you think about it?
CR: She did very well. She did very, very well. I was very proud of her! The first thing I was thinking was, man, all these people gave her such a hard time for entering, but now everybody’s her best friend [chuckles] which is kind of weird. But I was so proud of her and so proud to see that she did that for Jamaica and I think it’s just given me more motivation. Now I really want to go to Miss World and just bang it out [laughter] to do Jamaica proud.
CD: You are a young, intelligent and attractive. Do you think you intimidate people.
CR: I think so [said with short pauses between each word]. I don’t think I intentionally intimidate people, but I think some people are intimidated by me for whatever reason; because of my credentials or the reasons you mentioned. But, when people meet me, they’ll find that I’m one of the most approachable people ever. I’m probably too friendly. So, I think people just need to come up to me and get to know me and realise that there’s no reason at all to be intimidated. I’m friendly and personable.
CD: What would people be surprised to know about you?
CR: Let me think… I think people would be surprised to know that I’m not just one of those people who’re naturally good test-takers. When people find out that I’ve been to Harvard and everything, they automatically assume that I’m like brilliant and a success. But I work really hard. For example, the exam you need to take to get into law school in the states; I studied for that for the whole year in order to get in.
CD: The LSAT?
CR: Yeah. SO, I’ve never been one of those people to sit down and get it like that. But I make my goals and if I want to do something, I’ll work hard at it. If it takes me a year; if it takes me two years… I’ll work at it.
CD: A career in corporate law is very hectic. Do you foresee motherhood?
CR: Yeah! Hopefully I’ll be in a position to balance both. I don’t just see myself being a corporate lawyer. My family is very important to me. I want to be a mother, but I want to have my career. I want to be established in my career first.
CD: Babies and travel don’t really mix.
CR: Yeah… I know! I definitely want to live my life… You know? Be young and enjoy it. But I definitely want to work on my career. But I definitely have to have my own life and my own family.
CD: Feminists and others have strongly criticised the existence of beauty pageantry, claiming that it degrades women by having them assessed on their aesthetic value, rather than their character and substance; things that cannot be determined in a show. How do you respond to that?
CR: I believe that that might have been the case years ago, but I think beauty pageants have changed a lot.. maybe partly because of the feminist movement. But although there is a little bit of that… it’s a beauty pageant, you have to look good and they assess your beauty of face and and beauty of.. what do they call it again… beauty of figure, the reason why I chose to enter the Miss Jamaica World pageant as opposed to any other pageant is because there’s definitely a focus on the whole package. So, I thought it was a pageant that would definitely appreciate the contestants not only for being beautiful but also for being very intelligent. You also have to have a good heart and a good spirit. You have to be personable. That’s why I particularly love this pageant, and on an international scale, the Miss World pageant, because it emphasises the complete woman.
CD: The use of hair straightener and hair extensions is considered by some as a vestige of racial discrimination or slavery in the black community. What is your point of view on this issue?
CR: I really can’t see that because everybody uses hair extensions and straighteners. I mean there hair extensions for kinky hair, for everything. Britney Spears uses hair extensions, Beyonce spends tonnes of money on hair extensions so I don’t think its so I don’t think so at all. It’s not something that’s not forced on you at all because we had girls here with natural hair and if they wanted to keep their hair natural people actually encouraged them I remember there was a contestant Simone Barrett and she wanted to straighten her hair. We were like ‘No’ but I remember she wanted to do it for a show before that and we were saying ‘No, Are you crazy?’ because her natural hair looks nice. Actually, the differences is everybody hair is straight, everyone’s hair is long and you come with short hair and it looks fabulous, or you come with fabulous afro or fabulous curly hair you stand out. So I think it were something forced or other women than I could see that point but since its an option you can chose to do it or chose not. In fact, if you don’t do it you could stand a better chance than everybody else, the 30 other people with long straight hair that straightened or curly, I don’t think there’s an issue if you have an option not to.
CD: But if you took that same question from the point of view that, fair enough, Britney Spears and other celebrities use hair extensions, you’d still have to recognise that that question has been an on-going one in the Black community for years now. Tyra Banks, you know, just stopped wearing weaves, then she changed her position and said, “One day, maybe again”. I think it’s obviously more pervasive in African-American culture partly because we’re the ones with this kind of hair texture that…
CR: I don’t think its more pervasive…
CD: I mean, on an everyday street. I don’t mean performance. I mean everyday girls in their neighbourhoods. You don’t see that many white girls running to the salon to get hair extenstions. So, I think that substance behind the question is why? Because it’s not exactly cheap either? And right now in Jamaica we have a lot of girls who are bleaching for example. That’s an ongoing debate right now and nobody forced them. But there’ s something inherently around them that makes them feel that they ought to? I think the question is posed from that point of view; just to give you some context.
CR: Yeah. I understand that. I think it’s more than societal’s perceptions; definitely because we were a European colony and the influence from the US that that’s the certain standard that people try to portray of ‘beautiful’. Eeven I’m getting it now being Miss Jamaica World. You know… My runners-up were lighter than me and I get some criticism because of that, so I don’t understand. But… it’s a problem. It’s a problem with what you mentioned – the bleaching of the skin to try to be lighter, but I don’t that it is something unique to Jamaica. I think especially in the the western world, those are the images and that’s what the media especially portrays as beautiful – to be light skinned, with long hair or whatever the standards are and so women try to live up to that. But, I personally feel that there’s nothing more attractive than a very dark-skinned, beautiful woman. I was in the pageant with Sara Lawrence. Sara is very attractive. So when you have a dark skinned girl that stands out, especially when you go to Miss World and everyone is very fair skinned and you have this beautiful dark-skinned person I just think its so beautiful and I think a lot of people would agree. I see the pressures to change and to have the long hair and do whatever but sometimes when you already have it you appreciate who you are and you accentuate your positive attributes, you’ll stand out and you won’t have to conform to ideals.
CD: Many believe Yendi Phillipps lost because of the dress, will you in your preparation for the competition be managing how you look and what you wear for the pageant in China?
CR: I think I do have some say in what I wear but I’m not sure about the control I will have over the dress. Someone’s providing all of that for me. One thing I’ve done in Miss Jamaica World is just been more insistent. I try to do it in a nice way. For example, the first day I put on the dress I did not like it because it didn’t fit properly. But, you know, you try to work with the designers in the best way possible even though it might be difficult to say, maybe if you did this, and make your own suggestions to try to make it as nice and then at the end of the day whatever you get if you have to go out in a gown you hate you just have to try and rock it like you loved it. [laughter]. But unfortunately people do judge you based on how you dress as well even though it’s not under your control but I’ll definitely try to put more of my input its not just about what you think looks good but how you feel in a dress and so forth and it helps the way you carry it. So, I’ll definitely try to put my input but I can’t tell you how much control because I’m not buying the dress myself . I’m at somebody else’s mercy. [laughter]
CD: The series is called the Last Word and you have the last word. What is the one thing you would want to say to the world if you could?
CR: I would like to thank everyone that supported me. I’ve gotten so much support. I definitely feel that I was meant to win this year because it all the people around me just came together. Even people that weren’t happy with me entering at the beginning came around to support me. So many people voted for me, I won Public Vote… My friends were like ‘you need to stop’, ‘you need to hurry up and win because I’m tired of voting’ because they were voting for me constantly. I want to say thank you to everyone that supported me. Please continue to support me as I go on to the international competition. And if we can fit this in, I’d like to definitely thank my sponsor because they were supportive and I was happy to have them. They took out a full page ad today and they did it in the competition… And they have the entire staff at Geddes Refrigeration voting for me and I just really appreciate them. Thanks to everyone for the support.
CD: Thank you. I really enjoyed the interview and I think people will enjoy reading it as well