By SARAH LAWSON • The News Journal • June 22, 2010
Miss Delaware 2010 Kayla Martell, who has an autoimmune condition that results in hair loss, keeps her wig on a mannequin she's named Sheila. (The News Journal/BOB HERBERT)
Kayla Martell's wig is made from human hair and is the same color and length as her own hair did before it began falling out in the fifth grade.
A few things about Miss Delaware 2010 are different from her predecessors.
Kayla Martell, a graceful, bubbly 21-year-old Milford native, has been bald for 10 years.
lost their hair and not only having to deal with your own medical issues but having to deal with this cosmetic change," she says.
At the same time, she refused to allow the illness to define her, to be "that girl with alopecia." But she's happy to talk about it for now.
"That's who I am. When I go to the grocery store, I don't wear my wig," Martell says. "I don't wake up looking like this everyday. It takes work. ... Beauty queens don't have to be this perfect Barbie package that we wake up looking exactly like we do on stage."
Finally free from a long photo shoot with the crown, Martell sat in the Gillises' den opposite an upright piano she says she never touches. Her three-year-old Bichon Malti-Poo, Bridgette, a foot-tall powder puff, had lovingly guarded Martell, bravely barking and lunging at the photographer every time he directed the pair for a portrait.
Martell didn't mind dirtying her peach tea dress or her floral stiletto pumps as she walked Bridgette on a newly soaked lawn behind the Gillises' home. She even didn't mind when the Gillises' family dog, Chloe, a large black poodle, tried to jump on her.
She's been trying for the Miss Delaware title for five years; her first pageant dates back to nearly nine years ago. This year, she felt more confident.
A week before the competition began, she was in New Orleans, accepting one of the Outstanding Young Americans Awards given by the Jaycees to recognize and honor 10 Americans ages 18 to 40 who exemplify the best attributes of the nation's young people. Only one other Delawarean has won it -- Vice President Joe Biden.
Martell was nominated for her volunteer work in AmeriCorps and 4-H. She also travels speaking about alopecia.