‘I Feel Proud And Empowered Everytime I Wear My Hair Natural’

This Black History Month we asked Leal Alexander, aka CurlyGalLal about her natural hair journey and the importance of diverse representation

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by Remy Farrell |

As Grazia's Contributing Editor Candice Brathwaite puts it, 'black hair has been policed and ostracised for too long.' It was a fact acknowledged in the US in 2019 when the CROWN act was passed, and more recently in the UK, when it was announced that all hairdressers must learn to cut and style afro and textured hair. For too long, Black women have not been adequately catered for. In fact, research found that

80% of Black women felt they had to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office,

and that they were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hairstyle. In the UK, the Equality Act prevents discrimination on the basis of nationality and ethnic background, but characteristics such as hair are not specified, and it has not stopped children being excluded from school because of styles such as braids, locs, fades and afros.

Igniting a celebratory social media movement, we asked content creator Leal Alexander to share her hair journey and how she cares for her curls.

When Did You Decide To Go Natural?

"My background is in interiors but I fell in love with helping others on their natural hair journey - I have been natural for almost six years. This came after a difficult year at university where I decided I no longer wanted to change parts about myself to fit in. By this point I had been relaxing, bleaching and straightening my hair for over a decade. 2 years later I started my page @curlygallal as a way to help others do the same and be a positive representation of how to embrace your own and champion natural hair. It’s easily the best thing I ever did!"

What Impact Did Relaxing, Bleaching And Straightening Have On Your Hair?

"I had been relaxing and straightening my hair since I was 12. The damage had so much of an impact that I didn’t even realise my hair was curly until I was 21. Before this realisation, I had relaxed and bleached my hair into a platinum ombre which was the rage at the time. Even though my hair was breaking off, I still felt that I needed it to be straight to be beautiful. Looking back now, I realise that it wasn't just the tools or heat that damaged my hair - it was as much about the lack of knowledge and education around natural hair as well as a lack of diverse representation in the media. It's encouraging to see so many people embracing their natural hair!"

How Has Your Hair Affected Your Self-Identity?

"In the last year there has been a huge shift in how I would like to show up in the world, more as my authentic self. I’m proud to be who I am now but I spent most of my life always wanting to be someone else, and I never had the vocabulary or space to express why. I spent my younger years trying too hard to make my external image fit inside a box that made me shrink everything about myself. Whilst most people see it as just hair, going natural helped me break out of that box and led me on a journey of self expression and through this I started to step into who I am as a person.

It took 20 years but I feel like I'm home and fully settled with it now. I embrace my frizz as a normal part of natural hair, I feel proud and empowered everytime I wear my hair natural. I've learned so much about not just natural hair but myself on this journey and I appreciate that just showing up as myself can maybe inspire others to do the same. It makes me emotional when parents say seeing pictures of me wearing my natural hair helped their child fall in love with theirs”.

How Did You Learn About How To Care For Your Hair?

I really immersed myself in blogs (‘naturally curly’ is a great blog, my friend Gabriella also has a blog called curl maven) but most of my time was spent watching youtubers like Jasmean, Luhsette, Joyjah and Lauren Lewis just in awe of their hair, analysing, experimenting and refining my own techniques. A lot of your natural hair journey will be experimenting - so immerse yourself and have fun with it! Sometimes it will be difficult and you will want to quit. But to anyone who comes to me with these struggles, remember why you started this journey and that will carry you through. Sometimes it can be hard to separate ourselves from our hair and everything that's tied up in it but you are not your hair.

Know that your hair isn’t going to snap back immediately. For me it took months of research and self educating and then 1-2 years of trial and error before I fully understood what my hair needed. You will get there, be patient and listen to your hair.

READ MORE: Ask The Expert: Everything You Need To Know About Caring For Curly Hair

Leal's Top Tips For Caring For Natural Hair

  • Keep it simple. Whilst I love that we have so much new information and products available, this can make things confusing and overwhelming. Be experimental but don’t throw every product at your hair, start simple and experiment with different styling techniques. I always recommend using as few products as possible and sticking to three key principles: cleanse, moisturise and protect.

The basics you need are a cleanser, conditioner and styler. Pay attention to hair texture (fine/medium/coarse), curl pattern and your porosity. Water is your hair’s best friend, consider adding more water before adding more conditioner. Make sure to do a weekly cleanse to remove any build up and help your hair absorb moisture.

  • While it's not possible to reverse damage, only temporarily repair it with treatments, it is possible to trim the damaged length to help you discover your natural texture quicker. Alternatively, you can transition which means growing out the damage - you’ll have two textures to manage but I learnt a lot doing this. In the meantime - avoid heat, try not to over manipulate the hair, wrap it at night and keep it hydrated.

  • Embracing frizz - my favourite topic! The confidence to wear your hair naturally can come immediately for some, or if like me, it may take some time. It’s a big change! I’d say try to surround yourself with people who look like you and embrace their natural hair - this can be virtually, or in real life. Remember that perfection doesn’t exist - as much as social media may make you feel. Frizz is a very normal characteristic of healthy hair!

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Briogeo, Donu2019t Despair Repair Deep Conditioning Mask, £32
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Briogeo Donu2019t Despair Repair Deep Conditioning Mask, £32

"My favourite mask currently, it's a great balanced mask for moisturising that also contains protein so it nourishes and strengthens my hair."

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Where Can I Find Inspiration For Styling Natural Hair?

"Pinterest launched a first-of-its kind hair inspiration tool - hair pattern search, which has been created with Black, Brown and Latinx Pinners in mind, to empower users to search for hair inspiration across hair types. Through vision-powered detection, hair pattern search enables Pinners to refine hair searches by six different hair pattern types: Protective, coily, curly, wavy, straight and shaved/bald. Having the option to filter your search to hair type will save a lot of time - time that many of us have sadly had to get used to spending. I wish I had this feature when I was wedding planning because I felt like I had to go above and beyond to find brides that looked like me only to find a fraction of what this tool offers in just one click. At the very least, this sort of inclusivity will make a lot of people feel seen and heard.

Ultimately, you can’t be inspired if you don’t feel represented."

READ MORE: Beauty Lessons Mum Has Taught Me: Andi And Miquita Oliver

READ MORE: All The Reasons Why You Could Benefit From Sleeping In A Bonnet, Whatever Your Hair Type

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