Musings on the culture of keeping up appearances

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Miss Delaware's hair problem shines a light on our complicated feelings about our coifs

KaylaIn last weekend's Miss America pageant, one fan favorite broke the usual beauty-queen mold. Miss Delaware, Kayla Martell, is certainly beautiful, but she is also bald. That this became a running story in numerous publications in the days leading up to the contest shows how important society thinks hair is when judging a woman's looks. 

Martell usually — but not always — competes for titles wearing a wig, but far from trying to hide her baldness, she uses her beauty queen status to raise awareness about alopecia areata, the autoimmune disease that caused her to lose her hair as a child. The disease affects only about 2% of the population, but there are many other reasons women can -- and do -- lose hair. And when they do, it can cause a panic. Women I know have sworn off hair dye when they notice a few extra hairs in the brush, or taken any number of vitamin supplements to try to coax more luxurious growth. Friends who've lost hair temporarily due to chemo have either hidden the fact with wigs or earned the term "defiant" by going au naturel from the neck up. "Defiant?" As in going against the normal cultural mores.

In any event, it's been cause for concern.

There are many reasons for hair loss, and in many cases there are steps you can take to minimize the problem, as writer Alene Dawson reports.  

Meanwhile, we say kudos to Martell for showing that true beauty really can defy expectations.

--Susan Denley

Photo: Kayla Martell, wearing a wig, dances in the talent competition during the 2011 Miss America Pageant at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on Saturday in Las Vegas. Credit: Ethan Miller /Getty Images.

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Have really enjoyed your coverage of Kayla Martell. We greatly appreciate all that you have done as you have helped her increase awareness of alopecia areata.

Kayla Martell is a inspiration to all woman.. She shines brighter than any star in the sky...She is a role model for woman, and knows how to pursue her dreams regardless of any condition she may have.. In my opinion she should have won the Miss America pageant...She is talented, smart, and so beautiful. She has touched the lives of so many with Alopecia and without... Anyone that meets her I'm sure will agree..

All our lives we girls and women have been told our hair is our 'crowning' glory. African American women in particular spend far more than they should on their hair because of the pressure to adapt to Northern European standards. Kudos to Ms. Martell. Perhaps more women will follow her lead.

I shave my head. But I've had hair fall out from alopecia too. I work in the film and tv industry a little, and only then will wear a wig. But the rest of the time, I'm out with the bald head, or when it's cold... I have a wardrobe of great scarves and hats.
Ms. Martell, if she really wanted to make a brave statement, would have done the pageant bald.
She would've have stood out in an amazing way. Otherwise, she looked like all the other girls and therefore, was exceptionally exactly the same.


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