Tell me about yourself.
Zainab: My name is Zainab. I’m Nigerian-American and I’m studying chemical engineering, but that’s far from my passion. If I did what I love I would being doing photography centered around black women, black beauty and fashion. I’ve done some random projects in the past. When I get an idea, I start shooting my friends. I’m also very passionate about education. This past summer, I taught students how to code in Ghana. The majority of my students were young women. I believe education is so important because it's the key to changing the trajectory of someone’s life. My plan is to create a summer program in Nigeria. I want my program to be focused on social awareness. It’s important to have tech and math skills, but we also need to give people the tools to understand and become aware of social issues especially for young women. In Nigerian culture, a woman’s body is not her own. Through education, I want to shift the narrative of what a young girl is capable of.
What are your beauty struggles?
Zainab: My biggest struggles is my skin. I’ve struggled since middle school with acne. I’ve gone to different dermatologists and they prescribe meds, but it doesn’t work. When people look at you that’s the first thing they see. I eat healthy and exercise but my skin doesn't get better. It’s frustrating because I don’t know what else I can do. I’m the only one in my family with problem skin.
I also struggle with my hair. I’ve transitioned, chopped my hair off now I'm growing it back. I had my hair relaxed when I was 5 years old. I didn’t even know what that meant but my scalp would burn. During my 2nd year of college, I began my natural journey. Winter came and I had my hair out and it broke off so I’ve been trying different products but it’s hard to find ones that work for my hair.
Are there things that you encounter that others don’t?
Zainab: On my campus, there isn’t a strong Nigerian presence because everyone is from so many different places. The dating culture at my school is also difficult for darker skinned women. Colorism and looser curl patterns are praised and darker skinned women are ignored. Darker skinned women are less appreciated for whatever reason. Over time, you just get over it and realize most of them have nothing to offer you lol! I face a lot of microaggressions and discrimination as a chemical engineering major. People have low expectations for what I can contribute to group projects so they often ignore me. I was working in a group one time and one of my team members thanked everyone else but me! He didn’t acknowledge my work even though I contributed the most to the group. As a woman of color, you have to over compensate to be treated equally.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Zainab: Try to look at every situation from a positive perspective. Looking back, a lot of situations ended up worse because of the way I reacted. I always stay faithful and believe that God is working everything out for me. Every situation has a lesson even if I don't learn the lesson until 10 years later. I always tell myself to be honest with myself. Looking back on my college experience, I would have been happier and more successful if I would have followed my dreams. I chose the quote on quote easy way lol even though engineering isn’t easy.
What’s your self-care routine?
Zainab: I mentioned earlier that I struggle with my skin. I use a bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar masks every week. That is my regimen to help with breakouts. I also stopped blaming myself for not always working. I force myself to take a day off and watch tv and sleep. I am Muslim so I start my day with prayer. No matter what time I go to bed, I wake up at 6 am to pray. For me, photography is a form of self-care. It allows me to see things differently. I’m always listening to Afrobeats. My favorite songs are Davido’s Like That, Olamide’s Wavy Level, and, Kiss Daniel’s All God.
Keep up with Zainab:
Business Instagram: @four.usnyc