image by: Xpalmtree
The Miss America Organization requires every contestant to enter with a platform and Kayla Martell says living with alopecia every day makes her the perfect woman to help advance awareness of the disease
The Miss America Pageant is the oldest beauty competition in the United States and probably the most controversial as well. Early Feminists argued that the contest promoted the idea that the most important thing about a woman was her looks and painted an unrealistic image of the ideal woman. The fact that contestants were paraded around like cattle to show off their physical attributes then given a numerical score based on their measurements didn’t help endear them to feminists either.
Miss America supporters argue that it is much more than a pageant for bathing beauties; it is in fact a “scholarship” pageant for girls wanting to go to college and make a difference in the world. The Miss America Organization claims to be the world’s leading provider of scholarship money awarding more than $50 million to American women last year alone.
I have to admit, the scholarship part is very attractive $50,000 is awarded to the winner and $25,000 to the first runner up. That’s pretty good money for one night’s work. Maybe I’m getting old and my feminist ideals are becoming a bit relaxed, but with the rising cost of college tuition I’m thinking I should throw my daughter in a bikini and tell her to go out there and smile “Real Big” too.
The Miss America Pageant hasn’t changed much in its 90-year history - other than the obvious addition of different hair colors, ethnicities, and two-piece bathing suits. It still relies heavily on the same formula - the glitzy evening wear competition, the hokey talent show, the big toothy smile, and the helmet of perfect, shiny hair.
But if the hair on one contestant in this year’s Miss America pageant looks just a little too perfect and shiny, she has a very good reason. She has alopecia areata. Kayla Martell, a.k.a. Miss Delaware, may look like any other blonde from a distance, but there's one thing that makes her a little different from the other contestants vying for the Miss America crown: She’s bald, and she’ll be wearing one of her five custom-made wigs during the pageant.
Martell, 21, began losing her hair at the age of 10. She says, “It started about 12 years ago, first my eyelashes, then my eyebrows, then my part started to widen on the top of my head. Eventually I had a glorified mullet; hair in the back and no hair on the top.” She said she was frightened when she first learned about her condition and suffered from teasing and bullying at school. Eventually she tried wearing a wig to fit in but ultimately didn’t feel it was for her. Since then she's proudly held her bald head high hoping to inspire all young people struggling with conditions that makes them different or stand out.
Alopecia areata is a frustrating condition characterized by the rapid loss of hair. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own hair follicles and inhibits hair growth. It usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth patches on the scalp and can progress to total scalp hair loss - alopecia totalis or complete body hair loss - alopecia universalis.
Alopecia areata affects approximately 5 million people in the United States. This skin disease is highly unpredictable and cyclical meaning the hair can grow back in and fall out again at any time. Right now there are no FDA-approved treatments specifically for alopecia however many medical professionals are willing to try off-label treatments such as cortisone injections and pills, Minoxidil, and Anthralin cream.
Alopecia is neither life-threatening nor contagious but hair loss can be psychologically traumatic and many patients say they feel isolated and depressed. That is what concerns Martell the most and prompted her to make her own struggles public. She says, “We're just normal people without hair! We are otherwise healthy human beings; our bodies are just allergic to our hair. But, it is important to acknowledge the stigma associated with baldness and the emotional stress that comes from the unpredictable nature of the hair loss.”
Hoping to inspire others Martell typically appears as a bald woman while performing her duties as Miss Delaware and rarely wears a wig in her everyday life. “You can't and shouldn't be defined by your hair and I hope to show people that beauty comes in all kinds of packages…and whatever makes you different, you should embrace it. In many ways, alopecia has been a blessing to me and I wonder if I'd be where I am today without it.”
The Miss America Organization requires every contestant to enter with a platform and Martell says living with alopecia every day makes her the perfect woman to help advance awareness of the disease and to be a role model for children. Her platform involves public appearances and fund raising for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
I guess girls do learn a few life lessons from the Miss America Pageant: poise, compassion, public speaking skills, and most importantly how to walk in high heels and balance something on their head - either a wig or a crown.
Stacy Matson, a health enthusiast from Southern California, regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.
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