Kayla Martell is living proof that hair loss — even if it’s a nightmare — shouldn’t get in the way of your dreams.
Kayla was crowned Miss Delaware in 2010 and in 2011 was just the third Miss Delaware to ever finish in the top 10 of the Miss America pageant. She’s been living with alopecia areata since she was 11. Now she’s also our Gemtress Official Spokeswoman, helping women all over the country understand and overcome all kinds of hair loss.
She just woke up one day,
Kayla grew up an only child in Milford, DE and always dreamed of being in pageants. Her hair loss started literally overnight when she awoke one morning and found a big bald spot. For about a month, Kayla hid her balding from her parents and friends by parting her hair on the side. The spot grew gradually and when it was about the size of a tomato, she finally told her mom.
Balding is scary for everyone.
At first, Kayla’s mom was very worried that Kayla could be very sick or that she would be picked on at school. When her balding had spread so that she had a mullet — long hair in the back but none on the top of her head — the taunting started. Kayla’s mom took her to a doctor who diagnosed her with alopecia areata and said those terrible words — “There’s nothing we can do.”
It’s an emotional roller coaster.
Like most women who develop hair loss, Kayla had to go through a great deal of testing. The XRays, MRIs, and blood work revealed that she had a thyroid condition. Since this can cause hair loss, Kayla and her doctors were hopeful that her hair might grow back after thyroid treatment, but it didn’t. Her mom bought her wigs, but they were itchy, hot, and frizzy. Kayla tried to wear them so that her mom would feel better, but she never felt comfortable.
One day, you take control.
In 6th grade, Kayla spent most of her time with two best friends — both guys. They didn’t understand why she kept wrestling with the ring of long hair she had left. “Why not just shave it off?” That was when Kayla decided she was going to own her hair loss. She shaved her head and made the choice to wear bald as her style. When her mom bought her another curly red wig in 9th grade, Kayla gave it one more shot. She wore the wig to gym class and ended up pulling it right off.
She never wore a wig to high school again.
Kayla began entering pageants when she was 13, and she had her first win at 14. At 17 she was the youngest contestant in the Miss Delaware pageant. She competed without a wig and was 4th runner up. For 3 more years she competed for Miss Delaware without a wig. After her 4th try, one of the male judges approached her. He asked, “Do you want to win? Do you want to be miss Delaware.” Of course she did. “You’re going to have to wear a wig,” he said.
Winning is a state of mind.
Kayla was offended and decided not to enter the contest the following year. But as the pageant approached, Lilliana — one of her youngest and bravest fans with alopecia — asked her why she wouldn’t be Miss Delaware. Kayla realized she didn’t have a good answer. What kind of example would she set by quitting? She decided to try a new approach. When Kayla put on her first Gemtress wig, she was afraid that she’d look in the mirror and find that she’d lost herself. Instead, she was shocked to see herself — a different Kayla, but still Kayla, just like if she’d changed her gown or makeup. As she danced around the salon (and her wig didn’t fall off) she knew that her winning Miss Delaware talent would be to dance.
Things can get (a lot) better.
Kayla was crowned Miss Delaware in 2010 — her 5th try and her 2nd wearing a wig. After the pageant, she had just one week to get all her information to Miss America, including whether she’d be competing with or without a wig. Kayla felt torn. She didn’t want to hide her baldness or to seem ashamed, but she felt comfortable and saw flowing hair as part of being Miss America. (It’s hard to wear that crown without hair!)
You can stand for something more.
As the new Miss Delaware rushed to New York City for appearances on The Early Show, Today, and the Wendy Williams show, she realized this was her chance to share her story. She got to show millions of women that they get to choose how they feel most comfortable, and that not having hair doesn’t have to hold you back.
You’ll be surprised.
Kayla didn’t win the Miss America crown in Las Vegas in 2011, but she did enjoy a lifetime’s worth of surprises. She found a friendly, supportive, open, and honest atmosphere at the pageant. Some of the girls became her best friends and would even be in her wedding. As she and her friends joked during the final about the Delaware curse (Miss Delaware never gets to hear her name), the Top 12 were announced. She wasn’t one of them. But then America’s Choice was announced, it happened. Kayla Martell had won hearts all over America and was still in the competition. Then the Top 10 were announced, and she heard her name again. The judges had decided to keep her!
Everything happens for a reason.
Kayla has no regrets. If she hadn’t had alopecia, she wouldn’t be the person she is today, and she wouldn’t have walked the same path. Now that the pageants are over, we’re honored that Kayla has chosen to work with Gemtress. She travels the country to host our Hair Loss Seminars and share her story with women and girls who are struggling with hair loss. Kayla puts it best when she says, “I’m excited to be the face of this beautiful line, and to be doing the kind of work that I can be proud of.”
To connect with Kayla, find a Free Women’s Hair Loss Seminar near you or visit her blog.