Alyssa Kessel of Glendive, one of the 12 young women competing for the title of Miss Montana this year, stands out for an unusual reason.
Kessel, 19 years old, has an auto immune condition called alopecia universalis that caused her to have complete hair loss.
"Actually this Saturday, June 17th, will be one year since I've had no hair," said Kessel. "When I lost it it was gone within a month. It went out that fast."
Kessel said it took her a while to become comfortable in her own skin again, but now she is looking to share what she learned to others.
"I hope that they see me and then they realize that I'm putting myself out there and I'm having a blast doing it, and they'll realize they don't have to hide themselves," said Kessel.
"They can embrace who they are and just truly love themselves," Kessel said.
Despite the condition, Kessel is making waves as the pageant kicks off this week, winning the "Fitness In Swimsuit" competition on Thursday during the first preliminaries.
Also winning a preliminary round was Madison Murray of Corvallis, who won the evening gown competition.
Friday night preliminaries continue at 7 p.m. at the 1,000-seat DCHS auditorium in Glendive as the 12 contestants switch roles.
The new Miss Montana will be crowned Saturday night
People can help choose a finalist by voting for Montana’s Choice online at www.MissMontana.com with $1 per vote.
More than $300,000 in cash and applied scholarships is awarded.
"From my personal experience, I know how hard it is to go through these challenges," Kessel writes. "But let me tell you, I have met more sincerely gracious people in this past year than I have in my entire life. And those people, those are the ones that keep me going, that push me to inspire other young individuals. There is about 28,000 Montanans, alone, that are tackling alopecia. How many do you know of?"
In another post, Kessel explains how she was inspired to compete for Miss Montana:
Let me tell you a little bit about my motive for doing Miss Montana.
I was in the bathroom in the Tower City Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I was washing my hands and out of the corner of my eye I saw this girl looking at me, I decided that she was just curious about my condition and kept on my way. Not even two seconds later she just blurted out, "do people make comments?" I knew exactly what she was talking about, so I replied, "old people are the worst. Because it's not something they see often, they don't know how to control their awe. But besides that I've met some really kindhearted people. More often than not the comments will be positive." she explained to me that she had had alopecia since she was 7, and she's always wore a wig. I told her she was absolutely stunning and that she should give it a shot because it is completely freeing to be able to be 100% yourself.
In that moment in the bathroom in Cleveland, Ohio, it sparked something inside of me, the same something I felt a few months ago when I decided to do Miss Montana. I'm not only doing this to gain some of my confidence back, but to inspire young women and men, that their difference, is undoubtedly beautiful.
It is important to keep a positive body image, and I hope to inspire not only those who are unique, but everyone else too. When you see someone who is a little bit different and you love it? Say something. Let me tell you, it makes a world of difference. Let's uplift and encourage each other to be our best selves. My message for everyone out there going through something is that you are not alone.
Be unrelenting, be unstoppable, and be implacable.