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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman who is receiving international attention after competing in a beauty pageant without a wig covering her baldness says she just wants to help others facing the challenges of alopecia.
Earlier this month, Angelica Galindez, 19, of Salt Lake City, competed in the Miss Philippines-Earth pageant, winning the title of Miss Philippines-Water and the social media award. Galindez chose to compete without her wig, hoping others without hair would be inspired to accept their appearance as well.
When she was 12 years old, doctors diagnosed Galindez with alopecia areata and later alopecia universalis — the rarest form of alopecia, an auto immune disease that causes an immune system to reject hair follicles, and results in complete hair loss. Her aunt was the first to notice she was losing hair and it took about a year of analysis and bloodwork for doctors to find its cause, she said.
For a long while, she would sleep and cry about her diagnosis and her loneliness, she said.
“I didn’t love myself because I wasn’t the same as everybody else; I didn’t know a lot of people who were going through what I was going through,” Galindez said.
For a few years, Galindez maintained her hair growth with pills and painful steroid injections in her scalp, but the treatments left her frail and sick. At age 15, she began to accept her condition, stopped the steroid treatments and all her body hair fell out.
“You have to ask yourself: do you want your hair or don’t you? Do you want to keep growing your hair or be healthy?” she said. “Accepting what you have is the hardest part.”
In high school, she played on the Tooele city softball league and she credits the experience with helping her gain confidence and appreciate her appearance.
“I felt like I could be a part of something. They didn’t judge me, they’re all girls,” she said. “I felt like I was actually a part of something instead of being excluded from something.”
Interested in outreach, Galindez and two other classmates from Stansbury High School visited classrooms of elementary school children with alopecia. Together, they explained the condition, that it wasn’t contagious and why it happens. It helped the kids, she said, but it also helped her.
“We were spreading awareness of what we had instead of (the students with alopecia) feeling neglected,” she said. “I started accepting it after I started telling my story to other people instead of denying it I would actually share and they would see how strong I was.”
During one presentation, Galindez said, a little boy with alopecia removed his head scarf and showed the class his head for the first time.
“He just took it off. He felt more confident in himself because his classmates knew what he had,” Galindez said. “Helping other people helps you to understand what you have and what conditions you have.”
She said she wants children and adults to know what alopecia looks like and have someone to turn to for support.
This desire to reach out to others and be an example is what made her decide to compete, though her entry was somewhat of an accident.
While at her grandmother’s 80th birthday party earlier this year, a family friend snapped a photo and sent it to the Miss Philippines-Earth pageant. Galindez, whose father is Filipino, got a surprise phone call from the producer, who was interested in her application.
I kept thinking, 'if this is a beauty pageant, then why shouldn't I show my true beauty?' … I think I'm beautiful without my wig.
After she sent him photos of her without her wig, she said he was surprised and warned her she would get a lot of attention for it.
“I think he was just thinking I just had extensions,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘if this is a beauty pageant, then why shouldn’t I show my true beauty?’ … I think I’m beautiful without my wig.”
She was crowned as Miss Philippines-Water USA and was one of six finalists. Though she did not win the overall competition, she showed the judges her confidence and courage by foregoing a wig during the pageant.
“I feel like it’s made me stronger. That’s the reason I did it, I felt like it was going to make me stronger,” Galindez said. “I’m already comfortable in my skin, but being on that stage and showing everybody that I can be myself in front of anyone made me stronger. I want to prove to other people who have alopecia that they can do anything.”
She said at no point did she feel anyone was pitying her, rather, people were kind and encouraging. Judges told her she was brave, and though they were competitive, other pageant participants joked about how lucky she was not to have to shave.
“I think anyone — even if they have a disorder — if they’re brave enough to get out there, we’re all equal. Just because we have a condition, it doesn’t matter,” Galindez said.
With her title, Galindez qualifies to compete in the national-level Miss Philippines-Earth pageant in April 2014.
Since the pageant, her crowning has headlined TV news and news websites across the world. But for the beautician, the highlight has been the people with alopecia reaching out to her, seeking support. She has been able to talk to them about beauty and confidence, as well as what it’s like to undergo tests and treatments. She has been able to further her goal of outreach because of the attention of going without a wig brought her.
“I just want to be an inspiration, I just want to help. It’s not for publicity,” Galindez said. “But if I can get out there and help someone then that’s awesome.”