Besides our skin tone, the first thing a person sees when they look at a Black woman is often our hair. For many of us, no outfit is complete until our Black hair is done. Amidst the Twitter trending topics for the 2021 inauguration for president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris—Harris’ purple Christopher John Rodgers ensemble, Michelle Obama’s Sergio Hudson oxblood jumpsuit, Jennifer Lopez sneaking “Let’s Get Loud” into her performance—the hairstyles at the Inauguration top of the list. VP Harris’ deep chocolate blowout and Amanda Gorman’s Senegalese twists garner praise. But it was the word “laid” that soared to the top of the trending list after Obama arrived at The White House. Stepping out of her black suburban jeep, Obama’s luscious curls bounced with every step she took, sending Twitter into a tizzy.
“WILL MICHELLE OBAMA’S HAIRSTYLIST PLEASE COME TO THE FRONT,” one Twitter user wrote. Before no time, Twitter detectives had already found the hair magician responsible for creating the newest addition to everyone’s Pinterest hair inspiration boards: Yene Damtew, celebrity stylist and owner of Aesthetics Salon.
“A client of mine responded to a tweet about Mrs. Obama’s hair, tagging me in the process. From there, things just started to go viral,” she remembers. But you didn’t need to search too hard to find Damtew. After all, the DC-based hairstylist has been working on Obama’s glam team since 2009.
“I was working for her then-stylist, Johnny Wright, and he brought me to the White House where I assisted with hair needs for the entire family. Working in the White House for eight years was one of the highest honors of my life,” Damtew tells ELLE.com. The Obama’s left many things behind them in The White House when Barack’s term ended in 2017—Damtew wasn’t one of them. “My relationship with Mrs. Obama has remained strong in her post-First Lady life,” she adds.
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So strong that Damtew and Obama rarely ever have to discuss looks for events because Obama “trusts me to pick a style that will work and I trust her to allow me some creativity,” she says. When it came time to plan Obama’s Inauguration Day look, Damtew, collaborated with Obama’s other style team members—Meredith Koop, Carl Ray, and Christy Rilling—to ensure Obama’s look was a spectacle from head to toe. “I knew Mrs. Obama would be wearing a monochromatic look, so I knew the hair would have to stand out on its own,” she says.
The result was an updated iteration of Obama’s trademark lob hairstyle. Where past Michelle Obama lob styles varied from shoulder-length to a middle part to eyebrow-grazing fringe bangs, Obama’s 2021 Inauguration look brought back her classic side-swooped bangs, this time with subtle chocolate brown highlights and lustrous curls with enough body-ody-ody-ody to make Megan Thee Stallion proud.
To create Obama’s bouncy look, Damtew began by curling the hair with a one-inch barrel flat iron. Next, she locked in the heated curls by using a roller set to mold them in place. After removing the curl set, Damtew went in with a round bristle brush “to create body and soften the curls.” Once she fluffed the hair with a feather comb, Damtew finished the look by applying hair spray to hold the curls in place. The wind works hard, but Damtew’s hands work harder.
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When Damtew sent Michelle Obama off to the Inauguration, she had no clue of the impact a side-swooped bang and curls would make on women watching from their homes. “I wanted it to say that she’s still who she always is and will forever be, a confident, black woman,” Damtew adds. “I’m glad everyone loved the style and hope it instilled joy and confidence in women across the globe.”
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