Beauty pageants evoke images of flawless women in amazing shape, perfectly made-up and coifed, right?
Yet one beauty queen vying for the Miss America title in Las Vegas this Saturday night has barely any hair on her head.
Kayla Martell, Miss Delaware, has been bald for half of her 22 years — she has alopecia areata, a rare condition that results in unexplained hair loss. But that’s not stopping her from competing for her lifelong dream.
Martell, who competed in her first pageant when she was 13, has always competed while wearing a wig, though she prefers to go bare in her personal life.
“When I’m home with my family, I’m always without my wig — that’s who I am,” Martell told TODAYshow.com. “If I’m practicing dance or at the gym, I don’t wear it.
“By the time I was 13, my hair was out completely,” she explained. “The thought of getting a wig never crossed my mind at all. My mother first brought up the suggestion and brought home this awful brown wig. I don’t know why, because I’m naturally blond and everyone in my family is blond.
“I wore it to school, but took it off in the middle of the day, put it in my backpack and never looked back.”However, when she’s on the pageant circuit or making appearances as Miss Delaware, it’s a different story. “As Miss Delaware, I wear it 98 percent of the time. It’s important that people recognize you, so I wear the same hairstyle each time,” she explained. “I don’t want it to be about my hair.” Or lack thereof.
Wearing a wig comes with challenges, like styling it. “I didn’t have hair for half my life; I didn’t have the first idea about how to style hair,” Martell admitted. “My first curling iron was given to me at Christmas.”Still, with wig or without, “I am confident and comfortable.” And there are advantages: “I can take my hair off like I did in rehearsal today so it wouldn’t get messy.
“I’m lucky, I can style my hair the night before,” Martell added. “It’s great for traveling, and so simple. I wear one wig to travel and keep one styled.” Other contestants have to take the time to wash and style their hair.
Martell likens her wigs to false eyelashes or hair weaves, items other contestants use. “There’s nothing wrong with embellishing what you have. I want a great hairstyle,” she said, adding, “I try not to think about the difference. I strive to be confident and work with what I’ve got.”
Martell will compete against 52 other Miss America pageant contestants in Las Vegas, Nevada — in the pageant’s 90th year — on Saturday. “The View" host Joy Behar, actress Marilu Henner and country singer Mark Wills are among seven judges who will decide the next Miss America, a title currently held by Caressa Cameron of Virginia. The pageant airs on ABC at 9 ET.Like all Miss America contestants, Martell has a platform, an issue she champions. Unsurprisingly, hers is the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.“Over 5 million people have alopecia areata,” she pointed out. “I hope we’ve gotten past the point of seeing someone without hair and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope they’re OK.’“Hair loss is generally associated with sickness, but there are millions of people like me,” she added. “I run, I’m healthy, I eat well; I’m just allergic to my hair. With unexplained hair loss, there’s not one trigger for every person and there’s not one treatment for every person.” But how’s this for ironic: Competing for the Miss America pageant is probably the most pressure Martell’s ever been under, yet her alopecia seems to be getting better.
“I can’t explain it, but it’s growing back,” Martell said of her natural hair. “It looks like a buzz cut right now. I’m going to have to shave it so I can tape down my wigs.”