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Who is Yene Damtew? The Hairstylist Behind Michelle Obama’s Dazzling Hair Curls

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Despite growing up in a skeptical environment, star stylist Yene Damtew was confident she could reach greater heights in her job if she stayed focused and worked hard to obtain the success she desired. Working for a first family, on the other hand, was not what she had envisioned.

What began as a fascination and style of her dolls’ hair as a toddler evolved into the awe-inspiring curls on former First Lady Michelle Obama’s head many years later. As a child, Yene was interested by how her mother’s hair looked after her hot rollers were removed, and how it was groomed thereafter. By sixth grade, Yene had started styling her own hair in order to explore her possibilities.

When she was 16, she took a leap of faith toward realizing her dream by enrolling in Cerritos Cosmetology School in Los Angeles County. According to Northern Virginia Magazine, she met Johnny Wright, the Obamas’ former hairstylist. Her friendship with the Obamas began when Johnny was asked to style the former first lady’s hair.

According to Tadias, Yene’s function was to style the hair of the former first daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, as well as Marian Robinson, Michelle’s mother; nevertheless, she was periodically forced to correct the former first lady’s hair.

Her relationship with the Obamas did not cease after the former president left office; according to Vogue, Michelle invited Yene to officially work for her as her full-time hair stylist.It was an opportunity for Yene to live her dreams and nothing else.

Soon after, she had the globe talking about Michelle Obama’s curly hair at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in 2021. Many wondered who was behind the style and how much effort went into the gorgeous curls on social media. Yene was inspired by Obama’s fashion stylist, Meredith Koop, who had recommended what she would wear to the ceremony.

She made each huge curl of hair on the former first lady make a striking statement with the painstaking use of a one-inch barrel. That is not, however, the only hairstyle Yene is delighted to have created for the former first lady. She styled her hair on the cover of her autobiography, Becoming, as well as the covers of Elle and Essence magazines in 2018.

Although she received a lot of attention for these hairstyles, Yene’s favorite is the natural curls she styled for the first lady. It wasn’t so much about the attractive aesthetic as it was about the symbolism of Michelle Obama wearing natural curls for the first time. Millions of African women of color have faced discrimination, intimidation, and ostracism as a result of their hair over the years.

Even in circumstances where minorities are protected by law, black women experience hair bias. One-fifth of black women report being sent home from work due to their hair. According to the Harvard Business Review, black women wearing their hair in a natural hairstyle are seen as unprofessional. Michelle Obama’s unique gesture has empowered women of color like Yene to be confident in however they choose to wear their hair.

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