#TBT: The Glow Up Will Be Televised

Time for another #TBT! On the second Thursday of each month, we’ll release a past celeb cover story from our print-only archives. For this third round, we’re throwin’ it back to summer 2016 — our first-ever Natural Hair Love issue — with Skai Jackson.

By Andréa Butler| Photographed by Jim Cornfield | Hair by Marissa Cyda | Makeup by Hayley Kassel

You can miss her with all the mess. Skai Jackson, 14*, is here for none of it. Just two weeks after our interview, Skai had quite the run-in with known Twitter instigator, Azealia Banks, over a harmless tweet Skai sent. You already know how it all went down, so we won’t be rehashing it here. But, don’t feel sorry for Miss Jackson — she’s got it all under control. And she will let you know in the classiest of ways.

Her melanin pops severely underneath a crown of cascading ringlets, the Curls & Coils & Kinks tee she wears reinforcing all the Black girl magic that’s playing out in front of the camera during her cover shoot. Flexin’ her natural texture has been Skai Jackson’s signature style since forever ever, and she most definitely rocks the mess out of it. “I’ve always loved my natural hair,” she says. “I love how big my hair is.”

That’s not to say, though, that she never has any of those the-struggle-is-so-real moments, especially when it comes to trying out new looks on her own. “My hair is so thick that [it] pops every single rubber band — I can’t even get it into the ponytail holder!” Luckily, she’s got back-up at the ready (aka her hairstylist on Bunk’d), there to give her a crash course in managing her mane, which includes tips like keeping it moisturized, using all-natural products, drinking lots of water, and sporting protective styles. “On my free time, I don’t wear [my hair] out too much. When I do, now I know a lot of things that I can do with it without getting frustrated and it can all work out finally,” Skai says. Real talk, she’s more of a twists and bun girl, but the afro glam comes out to play on special occasions. She’s also down to rock cornrows and box braids, the latter of which she hasn’t tried—yet. (“The only thing that is holding me back from doing it is because I am super tender-headed,” she admits.)

What she’s not so cool with? Other people appropriating those same styles. “I’m not saying anyone cannot wear cornrows or they can’t wear Bantu knots,” she says. “I’m not against anyone wearing them … I hate it when they don’t use the proper words for it. It’s not boxer braids … Kim Kardashian did not invent cornrows. We’ve been doing it for years.” (Thousands of years, in fact.) “I feel like we should definitely get more props for that.”

But she’s not sitting around waiting for all the world to recognize the slayage Black girls bring. If she’d done that, she might still be living in NYC, just dreaming of making it to Hollywood one day. She may have let setbacks and discriminatory practices keep her down, like that time one of the mainstream parenting magazines photographed Skai and her mom for their cover, only to run a white family, instead — decked out in the exact “same poses as us, same outfits, same everything” — because it was their policy to only pick one African-American family per year. Or, she may have given up after completely bombing an audition when she was just 7 years old. “I go in the room … and I totally forgot every single word that I had to say, and I did not know what to do,” she says.

Instead, she’s out there grindin’, racking up opportunity after opportunity. A recent biggie? She landed a gig as the red carpet correspondent for Coca-Cola at this year’s Black Girls Rock show — her first time attending, ever. (“The show was amazing,” she says. “I definitely wanna go next year, again.”)

And even though Skai’s been killin’ it in the industry since she was an actual toddler, it seems that the masses are just starting to take notice, sometimes in the most unpredictable ways. “I think it’s totally funny that I have a meme,” she says laughing. “I mean, I follow so many meme accounts, and I’ve been like going through memes … for awhile now. And then now that I’m actually a meme on all these accounts is pretty fun … I don’t take any offense to it.”

After all, to survive in this game, you need more than talent for days. You’ve got to have a sense of humor, drive like no other, and the ability to dust yourself off and try again and again and again and again. “I never gave up, and of course, it took me, like, more than five years to achieve [my dream], but I never gave up,” Skai says. “I was like … I’m just gonna keep on believing that one day I will move to L.A. and I will do something with Disney.” Obviously, she did — and continues to do — the dang thing.

She parlayed her modeling and commercial experience into a full-blown acting career, and following four seasons of Jessie, she’s currently reprising her role as Zuri in the Jessie spin-off, Bunk’d. Like Skai, herself, Zuri has become a teenager, too, and her storyline reflects that — she’s gotten a love interest, taken a couple of the younger stars under her wing, and has seriously upgraded her hair and fashion game. “People still think, ‘Oh, why doesn’t Zuri wear her tutus and pigtails?’ But, I mean, she’s 13. Do you really think a 13 year old would wear that?” she laughs. “It’s important for, you know, the Disney viewers to see how Zuri grows up over the years and the different looks she’s doing and just how her character is evolving. It’s important that they get to kinda grow up with me in a way.”

Not only is her television character getting in on the glow up, but Skai’s personal goals are, as well. “I just wanna do so many more things other than acting. I wanna direct and produce and become a fashion designer,” she shares. “In the next four to five years, I definitely wanna be partnered with a big fashion line and get a deal with them.” Based off of her own laid-back, but trendy style, Skai sees her designs filled with edgy tops and bottoms, infused with funky prints and mix-and-match patterns. “Sometimes, I don’t wanna wear a dress. Sometimes, I just wanna wear a cute shirt and some pants,” she explains. “When I’m out and about, I just wear whatever that’s cute that I have in my closet.” Her go-tos: distressed skinny jeans, a pretty top, and a pair of Adidas or Nike kicks. Skai doesn’t have a name in mind for her line yet, “but something cool.”

Another goal she’s digging for? Her dream role: to star in a horror flick. “I don’t care, like, which role I play,” she says. “I don’t care if I play the serial killer or if I play the victim. Whatever it is, I just really wanna be in a scary movie.” And ya girl has already been preparing for such a role since she was 9 years old and went to her very first Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios Hollywood. “I did not know what I was getting myself into … and I was so scared the first year,” she says. Since then, she’s made it a tradition to go at least two nights each Halloween season. “It’s just that fun to me. They change it, like every night, so it’s not like you’ll know when [the actors] pop out.” And just in case she didn’t see it all on the first trip, she goes a second time “so I can see all the things that I missed because I was too scared and I closed my eyes.”

When she’s not working (method acting-like movie prep, included), which she admits is rare, she likes to relax at home, chill with her girls at amusement parks, or hit up the mall. But, she confesses that going out can be a little difficult sometimes. “It’s very hard for me to go to any kind of public place without everyone … asking me for pictures, which I’m cool with because I love meeting all my fans. But sometimes, I do have to wear a baseball cap or maybe some sunglasses to help me if I’m, like, just trying to get in and get out,” she says.

Oh, the life of a #boss. And Skai wouldn’t trade it for anything. She’s worked hard to get where she is today and she doesn’t plan on slowing down now. She knows the journey toward reaching your dreams can be hard and frustrating, but worth it in every way. “A lot of people, they just give up ‘cause … one year goes by or two … it takes time,” she says.

*Skai was 14 years old when her cover interview was first published in our summer 2016 issue.

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