FORT MILL — The S.C. Strawberry Festival kicked off Friday night with the annual Strawberry Pageant at Nation Ford High School.
Ashley Jones was named Miss Strawberry, Mrs. Strawberry 2014 is Erika Mauldin and the Teen Strawberry crown went to CeCe Hensley.
Another contestant, Rebecca Doggett, didn’t take home a title Friday, but some might consider her one of the biggest winners.
In the world of pageantry the priority is often misplaced on outer beauty, measured by the idea of the perfect woman. For example Barbie: long legs, a thin waist, an impressive chest and thick hair. But what happens when there is no hair, can one be bald and beautiful?
In January, Doggett attended the Fort Mill High School Pageant, to support her friend Brittany Cobb competing for the title of Miss Fort Mill High. Doggett, who has alopecia, never thought she would be competing for her own title five months later.
At the show, Doggett met During the intermission she saw her friend Brittany Cobb standing next to a professional-looking woman. Doggett walked over to talk to her.
Cobb had competed in the S.C. Strawberry Festival Pageant the previous year as a way to build self-confidence and to help raise awareness for the nonprofit organization Hidden Wounds. Brittany lost her father to suicide as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder and she herself did not fit the stereotypical skinny pageant girl. Cobb introduced Doggett to Patti Mercer, director of the Strawberry Festival pageant. Mercer encouraged Doggett to sign up for her “Cause before crown” – the unofficial theme of the pageant.
“I like food and sweatpants, so I don’t know,” Doggett said.
As they talked, Doggett promised to sign up.
Alopecia is an autoimmune disease causing her body to mistakenly read her hair follicles as foreign invaders, like a virus or bacteria. Her body attacks the hair follicles and kicks them out. It is common for people with alopecia to lose their hair in quarter-sized patches. Like most diseases, there is a range of severity. Some only lose a few patches of hair and others, in the most extreme case, can lose all of their hair from the scalp and body.
Two years ago, Doggett lost the majority of her curly, brown hair in about three months.
“It was always a fluctuating thing,” she said. “It would go in spots and eventually the spots got so big that the whole back of my head had no hair.”
When Doggett first started to lose her hair, she tried to cover it up. She used hair accessories to cover her head and purchased a wig similar to her natural hair. But everything she tried didn’t change that fact that her natural hair was gone forever.
Doggett stumbled across a girl on YouTube who had a shaved head. In one of her videos she explained reasons why she loves being bald. The video inspired Doggett to shave off the small amount of hair she had left.
“As soon as it was gone, it was this huge weight off my shoulders and I had so much more self-confidence. It just felt so good. It just, it felt great!” she said.
“If someone had told me, when I was in middle school, ‘you’re going to be bald and you’re going to love it,’ I would have laughed and said ‘you’re funny, you’re crazy!’ But I am. Bald is beautiful and you just have to embrace it,” said Doggett.
Doggett’s platform was alopecia awareness and self-confidence. Her goal is to educate people about alopecia. She says people assume she has cancer or she is making a fashion statement.
“I feel that it is important for people to get educated because you really don’t know what you don’t know,” she said.
Mercer, director of the Strawberry Festival pageant, applauds Doggett’s choice.
“Rebecca’s choice to not hide her baldness is bold,” Mercer said. “It takes confidence to be different, it takes character to step out and embrace your uniqueness and it takes strength to not be hurt by negative comments or by people that assume she has cancer.”
“I’m glad I talked to Patti and that she encouraged me to do the Strawberry Festival Pageant because I feel like it’s important for people to know that you only need yourself to love yourself. I feel like people don’t think about that,” Doggett said.
Doggett’s decision to compete helped change minds.
“I always thought pageants were for the absolutely flawless type, but this pageant has changed my perspective on that,” said Sue Bleau, competing for the second time in the Mrs. division of the pageant. “The Strawberry Pageant is more about the person. ‘Cause before crown’ is just that. We want people to see our cause and who we are because of it and that right there is Rebecca.”
Doggett made new friends along the way, raised more than $500 for the nonprofit organization Cookies for Kid’s Cancer and has gained more self-confidence than she had before.
“For most pageants the win is defined by a crown, but the Strawberry Festival Pageant defines the win by the personal takeaway through the experience,” Mercer said.
“The emphasis is place on being an encourager, being supportive, learning about what others are raising awareness for, learning about their causes and serving the community by giving back. So if the crown is not taken home that night, all the experiences of giving back are wins along the way because the true crown is that one we carry in our hear and the one we are willing to share with another person through a smile, a word of encouragement or a simple hug.”
The other women who won titles in the 2014 Strawberry Festival Pageant were: Wilma Lamberts, first runner-up in the Mrs. category; Carly Williams, first runner-up in the Miss category; Sarah Catherine Swinford and Ashley Simpson, first runner-up and second runner-up, respectively, in the teen category; Jenna Gandy, Sweetest Berry; Judi Blaylock, People’s Choice; Alli Waataja, Director’s Award; Ashley Jones, Biggest Impact; and Tabithia Engle, Sweetest Service Award.