Aug. 3, 2010— -- Kayla Martell is not your typical beauty queen. Her look can transform in a matter of seconds from someone with luxurious looking hair to someone who is bald.
Martell's look changes because she has alopecia areata, an auto-immune disease that can result in hair loss.
"There were times when I thought, 'Is this really the right place for me? Do I belong in the Miss America pageant? Is this ever going to happen for me?'" she said.
Before being crowned Miss Delaware, Martell vied for the title four times. Three of those times she competed bald.
From the time her hair started falling out at age 10, she went everywhere bald. The now-22-year-old still prefers to be bald in her non-pageant, everyday life.
Martell said she never even owned a wig until two years ago, when she decided to put aside her everyday look and put on a wig for the competition.
"There were times when I thought maybe I did not place because I didn't wear the wig," she said. "I wanted to be Miss Delaware more than anything in the world, and sometimes when you want a job that badly you need to take a step back and think, 'What [do] I need to do to make sure that I'm ready for this job?'"
Martell said she feels that people find her more approachable in public when wearing her wig. Otherwise, people tend to worry that she is ill.
Even so, she said, she loves the way she looks bald.
"The real Kayla is the Kayla underneath the wig," Martell said. "But the Kayla as Miss Delaware is comfortable both ways."
While Martell may be comfortable as a bald woman, the standard of beauty for most people includes hair, which can transform our look.
"Hair is one of the most important things you see when you see someone, and you make a first impression, a lot, based on their hair," said Linda Wells, editor in chief of the beauty magazine Allure. "Psychologists have studied hair and its effect on self confidence, on self-esteem, and found that when women report they're having a bad hair day, they feel that they are not good at anything."
'I'm Not Sick -- Just Bald!'
This value placed on beautiful hair is something we feel even as children.
"Hair was always extremely important to me, as I think it is for most girls growing up," said Sheila Bridges, who also lives with alopecia areata.
Bridges, 46, said she loved having distinctive curly hair throughout her childhood and as an adult.
Bridges was a successful interior designer and host of her own cable television show when her hair began falling out six years ago.
"It was really a very difficult and traumatic experience," she said. "[I] had all these business commitments to my clients, for my design business and for television, and suddenly I was dealing with something that was very difficult and personal."