Teen wants others to know she's bald and beautiful

(WMC-TV) - Mariah Stokes says there are some advantages to not having hair.

"I like to go swimming in the summer and I don't have to worry about washing my hair," said Stokes.

She said she has no worries when it rains and no hassles with styling in the morning.

"It's easier because I don't have to wake up every morning doing hair, and it's kind of difficult dealing with being teased and the stares and laughing and stuff," said Stokes.

Stokes has been dealing with the teasing and stares for most of her life.  Her hair started falling out after her first birthday.

"I was in the room combing her hair, and I was brushing it and all of a sudden, this hair started coming out in my hand," said her mother, Sandra Stokes.  "I called my husband, I was like, 'come look at this.'  I said, 'this just doesn't look normal.'"

After several doctor visits, Sandra and Mitchell Stokes accepted the fact that their daughter had Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles, essentially telling them not to grow hair.

The disease is not life-threatening and is not contagious.

"People say, 'well why were you so upset?  It's not like it's a disease that's not curable, that's she's going to die,'" said Sandra Stokes.  "I was upset knowing she's a girl.  I looked forward to putting those ribbons, and the bows and the 50 million beads, so it was really a hurtful experience."

Her father wondered how he would explain it to his daughter.

"I always thought about one day, she would perhaps ask me why, why is this happening, and I wouldn't be able to tell her anything," said Mitchell Stokes.

In some ways, it has been harder on Mariah Stokes' parents.

"I think the hardest part as a mother is when you see the teasing, and the name calling," said Sandra Stokes.

"Sometimes, you know, a lot of people think she's got cancer because of the loss of hair," said Mitchell Stokes.  "Things like that are some of the things that make it hard."

It was also hard when, at four years old, Mariah Stokes' hair grew back.

"The eyelashes started growing.  We were like magnifying glasses trying to find that hair," said Mitchell Stokes.  "And it started growing back and it grew back.  We were like, wow, this is over, we can get on with our lives."

"At four it all came back, and at six it all came out again," said Sandra Stokes.

Mariah Stokes is fearless about her condition and refuses to wear hats or wigs.

"I don't like hats, I think they're ugly on me," she said.  "And wigs, they're itchy and hot.  And God made me this way for a reason, so I'm just going to be confident and not cover it up."

There are treatments for Alopecia Areata, but Mariah Stokes said she is not interested.

"I just don't want to," she said.  "Everyone at school says they can't even picture me with hair."

Mariah Stokes admitted she gets tired of explaining her condition, but it has taught her a lesson.

"Everything happens for a reason, and to not focus on the negative, and to just stay positive and know that you're beautiful inside and out, and just be happy and be yourself," she said.

A lack of hair has not stopped Mariah Stokes from being a self-proclaimed "girly girl."  She is a cheerleader at West Junior High School in West Memphis, as well as an honor roll student taking all pre-advanced placement courses.

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