kayla martell| Hair LossKAYLA’S ROAD FROM ALOPECIA AREATA TO THE 2011 MISS AMERICA PAGEANT IS AN INSPIRATIONAL STORY.

Kayla Martell, the 2010 Miss Delaware, is in many ways a typical beauty pageant contestant. She’s gorgeous, of course, with the kind of blue eyes that pretty much define the word “sparkle,” a lovely figure that looks at home in both a swimsuit and an evening gown, and a smile that radiates enough warmth and electricity to put Con Edison out of business. She’s intelligent as well, and the list of charities with which the 21-year-old is associated proves that she possesses one of those hearts that can always find room for one more good cause.

But while Martell has an abundance of looks, charm, brains, personality and compassion, she is lacking in one area normally associated with pageant contestants: hair. Martell has alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes her hair to fall out and which has been a part of her life since she was 10 years old.

Martell began participating in pageants when she was 13, and for several years she did not disguise her alopecia. “I was always taught to just be the best version of me that I could be,” she explains. “And my family was always very positive about my alopecia. Basically, they taught me that there’s a lot more to me than hair.”

Martell encountered a roadblock

Two years ago, however, Martell began wearing wigs during her pageant competitions after realizing that she was otherwise unlikely to move any further along the pageant route.

This was a very difficult decision to make. Martell had never really considered wearing a wig before. Yet not only had she put a lot of time and effort into her participation in pageants — so had a lot of other people. “There were so many family members and friends who had worked with me for so long as well,” she says. Ultimately, however, it came down to whether Martell would feel comfortable with a wig.

“I went for 10 years without one,” Martell says, “and I do not regret that at all. That was what worked for me at that time in my life. But I also realized that people change, and I had to decide if it was time for me to look at things differently. It was very difficult, and I spent a lot of time weighing my options, but now I’m glad I chose a wig. It was the best decision I could have made, and having the option of wearing a wig definitely fits with who I am now and where I am in my life. There are times when I feel like I want to have hair on my shoulders, want to feel a little more feminine.”

Martell continues to be a role model for women with alopecia areata

Even though Martell now wears hair when in a pageant, she doesn’t try to hide the fact that she has alopecia. As a matter of fact, her platform issue is the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF), for which she is honored to be a spokesperson. “I am thrilled to represent NAAF,” she says. “This is such a terrific opportunity to nationally advocate for alopecia and bring awareness to it. NAAF is all about bringing awareness and providing support, and I’m so happy to be able to do something to help.”

On January 15, 2011, Martell will make her first appearance in the Miss America pageant. She has been a dancer since age 3, so her talent will be a routine choreographed to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” And although she is, as that song states, “a product of loveliness,” she’s also so much more. Martell is an inspiration, especially to women who must deal with the challenges of alopecia. “I’d love to leave a legacy,” she says sincerely, “not related to wearing a crown, but just from touching somebody’s life and helping to make a difference in that life.”