By Gareth Shoulder

BEING a teenage girl is stressful enough without hiding a deeply personal secret – your hair is falling out

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Videographer / director: Elie Khadra
Producer: Gareth Shoulder, Kim Nguyen
Editor: Garry Sykes

Cayla Harder, 20, has alopecia totalis, an autoimmune disorder which attacks the hair follicles causing baldness.

A hairdresser first discovered small patches of hair loss on Cayla’s head when she was in eighth grade of middle school.

Now, the twenty-year-old from Sacramento, California says her bald head is ‘sexy’ and wants her newfound confidence to empower other people with alopecia.

Cayla told Barcroft TV: “Any teenage girl has confidence issues in high school, but to have hair loss problems on top of that is unbearable.

“When my hair started falling out, I was freaking out because my hair was one of my absolute favourite things about me.

“I used to have really, really long thick hair.

“To have that taken away from you is really unfair and it put me in a depressed state.

“I started getting down on myself, not feeling too great, I wasn’t able to be myself.”

After being newly diagnosed with alopecia, Cayla found a sympathetic ear in a family friend going through hair loss.

She started experimenting with wigs in high school to disguise the fact patches of her hair were falling out.

“I actually knew someone going through alopecia, she was a bit older, so it was a bit hard to relate,” she said.

“But she was the first person who actually knew what I was going through and that was everything I needed.

“I started wearing wigs in my junior year because I couldn’t hide all of the bald spots anymore.”

The twenty-year-old has owned 15 wigs through her alopecia journey. Currently she owns four wigs of different colours and length and wears them proudly.

She sees them as a way of showcasing her gregarious character rather than hiding a disorder.

“In high school I was a lot more worried about fitting in than being myself and that why I hid because I didn’t know how I was going to be judged.

“I didn’t want anybody to think anything different than who I was, not what’s on the top of my head.

“When I came out about my alopecia, the wigs weren’t really a scary hiding thing for me anymore.

“They were more a way of showing off my personality.”

Cayla has alopecia totalis (AT) an advanced form of alopecia areata, that means hair will not grow on her head but can grow on other areas of her body.

It is estimated 150 million people worldwide have some form of alopecia areata.

The condition can also affect a sufferer’s self-esteem, changing their definition of beauty and self-confidence.

Boyfriend of Cayla, Joel Perez, was the first person outside of her friendship group Cayla that opened up to about her alopecia.

At the time she was still wearing a wig – something Joel didn’t suspect.

Joel said: “I didn’t really have a big suspicion she had worn a wig; it didn’t really cross my mind too much.

“There’s so many things that makes me be proud to be with her.

“I love her confidence that she will go completely bald and go without wigs and stuff is really amazing.”

Tired of hiding her condition from her wider social network Cayla decided to post a picture to Instagram.

Cayla describes the moment she shaved all her hair off and posted a picture as her ‘coming out’ moment.

She said: “It was like a freedom. It was this weight that had been lifted off my shoulders and I could finally just go out and do whatever I wanted.

“I didn’t have to worry about hiding anymore, which was a big relief. It was the first step towards accepting myself.

“I sometimes regret waiting so long to come out about it.

“I feel it was the best thing I could have ever done.”

At the age of twenty, Cayla is already forging a successful modelling career making appearances on television and growing her social media channel.

She hopes sharing her story will inspire other people by making bald sexy.

“I hope my story can touch a lot of lives out there, not only for people with alopecia, but for anybody with any kind of immune disorder or confidence issues,” Cayla added.

“I want people to learn alopecia is not debilitating, it’s not a disease that can take over your life.

“It’s literally something that can take your hair away and that’s it.

“I feel sexy bald for the first time and I feel like I can be loved by anybody, it’s an amazing feeling.”