Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

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Top 10 contestant in the Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania and Pottstown student hopes to empower others.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Special to the Reading Eagle: Kevin Hoffman | Sarah Pennington looks at herself in the mirror after receiving a new wig courtesy of Emilie in Pottstown.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Special to the Reading Eagle: Kevin Hoffman | Sarah is all ready for the upcoming Pennsylvania Teen International pageant with her new look.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Special to the Reading Eagle: Kevin Hoffman | Sarah Pennington, 18, remains focused on competing in the Pennsylvania Teen International pageant in March thanks to a wig donation by Emily Kurtz, left, of Hair by Emilie in Pottstown. Kurtz also donated funds to assist the teen in overcoming her mental health condition, which left her bald.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Special to the Reading Eagle: Kevin Hoffman | Sarah Pennington looks at herself in the salon mirror as she prepares to have a new wig placed on her head. The teen suffers from a condition known as trichotillomania, which her to compulsively pull out her hair.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Special to the Reading Eagle: Kevin Hoffman | Sarah Pennington holds her new wig donated by salon owner Emilie Kurtz, center, of Hair by Emilie in Pottstown. At right is salon assistant Ashley Laub.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Special to the Reading Eagle: Kevin Hoffman | Pottsgrove High School senior Sarah Pennington is all smiles with her new look sporting a fashionable wig donated from Hair by Emilie of Pottstown.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Special to the Reading Eagle: Kevin Hoffman | Salon owner Emilie Kurtz applies the finishing touches to a stylish wig on 18-year-old Sarah Pennington.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Courtesy of Michelle Pennington | Sarah Pennington at the Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA pageant in December where she placed in the top 10.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

| Sarah Pennington at the Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA pageant in December where she placed in the top 10.

 

Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Trichotillomania

Courtesy of Michelle Pennington | Sarah Pennington at the Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA pageant in December where she placed in the top 10.

 
 

Pottsgrove student hopes to empower others

Tuesday February 7, 2017 12:01 AM
 

 

Sarah Pennington hid her secret under a headband.

She remembers competing in the high jump in the eighth grade when that headband flew off and she scrambled to cover herself.  Once, in a relationship, she waited six months to share her secret, the worry growing like a wave.

 

“Obviously, it was a big part of my life, but I was still scared,” she said. “It was slightly terrifying.”Now 18, Pennington is not hiding. She’s out there, and she’s all in.The Pottsgrove High School senior has been living with trichotillomania, anxiety and depression disorders for years. In the fifth grade, she started pulling her eyebrows and eyelashes. Eventually she started tugging on all the hair on her head, leaving bald patches everywhere.It’s a condition that’s relatively unknown, and one that has to be hard for a kid just trying to be a kid.But these days you’ll find Pennington on the stage talking about mental health, working retail in Collegeville or trying to corral her service-dog-in-training Daisy as she scampers to greet a visitor.  On nights and weekends, she sings the national anthem in front of sports crowds and competes in pageants with a strong message.”I hope to empower people,” she said. “They don’t need other people to be their heroes. They can be their own heroes.”

A hard history

By her own admission, Pennington has had a hard medical history.

Before she entered high school, she had already had two surgeries related to scoliosis and a third for a sudden collapsed lung that resulted in hospital stays.  The fourth hospital stay was in Wisconsin to help her understand her mental health disorders.  In the 10th grade, the combination of her social anxiety and depression sidelined her from school for stretches of time.  She couldn’t will herself to do anything.”Obviously, there are days when it was not happening to be optimistic,” she said.  A snowstorm had canceled the flight to Wisconsin, so Michelle Pennington drove her daughter all the way there because she needed it.”I think she’s going to do well in life because she’s gone through all this,” Michelle Pennington said. “I wish she hadn’t needed to, but I’m amazed how she’s turned this around.”

Like the hiccups

The hair-pulling is just something Sarah Pennington does.

It’s a habit that she would love to break, but it’s always there.”Do you get the hiccups?” she asked. “Everyone has the hiccups. Everyone wants to stop the hiccups as soon as they start but they can’t. It’s the same exact thing.”The condition affects about one or two people in 50, according to The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior.  It typically begins in late childhood or early puberty in boys and girls. For adults, the large majority of cases are women.”It’s not just young schoolgirls,” said Emilie Kurtz, owner of a Pottstown hair salon who has supported Pennington as she prepares for an upcoming pageant. “There are so many people doing this.”The causes and treatment vary, but there is no medication indicated for trichotillomania or other related disorders. Cognitive behavior therapy can help some people break the habit, but does not help everyone. Pennington’s experience with the disorder has taught her about the differences in health care and the common misconceptions about mental health.”People think if you’re bald you have cancer,” she said.  Last month she stood in front of her Pottsgrove High School peers and talked about anxiety, depression and her hair-pulling. She uses the pageants to talk about mental health, as well.Eventually, she’d like to start a nonprofit focused on empowering others.”It’s a good feeling when you can help even one person, she said.

Platform

A haze of stigma and judgment still surrounds mental health and disabilities. That’s the space Pennington lives in, and it’s her motivation to share her story.

“For women hair is everything,” said Leslie Lee, programs and communications director for the TLC Foundation. “The shame of that is so inhibiting. To see someone out there who’s so young and so willing to share her story in her community, that’s the kind of change we need on a great scale in our world.”Pennington champions the notion that talking about mental health should be normal.  Disabilities don’t make people less capable, she said, they just make people do things in their own way.  “It’s OK to be different,” she said in one online video. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.”Hearing Pennington’s story was powerful for students and staff alike, said Kyra Ebert, a guidance counselor at Pottsgrove High School.  “She has the inner strength to take on that challenge,” Ebert said. “What really serves the kids is making a connection. It’s usually a connection with someone they meet, usually it’s peer to peer. Having a young person willing to stand up and say this happened to me is incredibly valuable and powerful.  “Ebert said she has been proud to watch Pennington thrive in situations at school that could have posed problems earlier in her high school career.”This is a unique journey,” she said. “I’ve been at Pottsgrove for over 20 years, and there are not many ladies that come along like Sarah.”

Hats off

In the 10th grade, Sarah Pennington took off her hat.

Her therapist at the hospital in Wisconsin asked her do it in front of everyone. That moment had been years in the making since she first started pulling her eyebrows and eyelashes. The hat had to come off, and then it did.  She noted how the earth did not quake. No one died. There were no shrieks of horror. “This is not as bad as I thought it was going to be,” she remembers about her big reveal.  She still wears a headband sometimes, and the tug of anxiety and depression is still there, but Sarah Pennington’s secret is now out and open for all to see.


 

About Trichotillomania

What: Trichotillomania is the repetitive pulling out of one’s hair. It’s one of a group of behaviors known as Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, self-grooming behaviors in which individuals pull, pick, scrape or bite their hair, skin or nails, resulting in damage to the body.

Frequency: Research indicates that about 1 or 2 in 50 people experience trichotillomania in their lifetime.

Severity: Hair pulling varies greatly in its severity, location on the body and response to treatment. Without treatment, trichotillomania tends to be a chronic condition that may come and go throughout a lifetime.

Treatment: The main treatment for trichotillomania and skin picking is behavior therapy. Some medications often can be helpful, but no one medication helps everyone with skin picking or hair pulling.

Source: The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior


 
MATTHEW NOJIRI | REPORTER
Reporter Matthew Nojiri covers the medical beat and the areas within the Schuylkill Valley and Conrad Weiser school districts for the Reading Eagle.
Phone: 610-371-5062
Email: mnojiri@readingeagle.com
Is it possible to FIGHT Trichotillomania?!?! Yes!!! Please view hair regrowth and testimonies here!
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