Three years ago, 5-year-old Sydney Caraher began losing her hair after an operation to remove a pen from her nose. Doctors believed that the stress of the operation triggered her alopecia — an autoimmune condition where someone loses their hair suddenly, starting with one or more circular bald patches. Over the next couple of years, Sydney began to lose her eyebrows and eyelashes, and lost so much of her head hair that “she thought she was turning into a boy,” the Wirral Globe reports. But rather than let her condition bring her down, Sydney has instead become an inspiration for people the world over.

Recently, Sydney won a modeling contract with the agency Frame, thanks to a competition at Pyramids Shopping Centre — which inspired her grandmother, Sue Cunliffe, to speak out about her own experience with alopecia for the first time. Now, the two are joining forces to help bring attention to Alopecia UK, a charity that aims to support anyone affected by alopecia in the country.

“It just shows you can be beautiful with or without hair,” Cunliffe told the Wirral Globe. “She is such a happy little girl and I hope winning this improves her confidence. If this can be achieved then she can deal with life’s stressful situations and get her hair back.”

Sydney and her grandmother went through their respective hair loss at the same time (Cunliffe believes hers was triggered by the unexpected loss of her husband, Geoffrey), and they grew closer by going wig shopping and learning to adjust to life with less hair together. Sydney’s win was a heartening and significant one for the whole family — and further proved that all girls are beautiful, even if we don’t fit in with what’s normally considered to be so.

“Winning this competition is great, as it goes against the stereotypes of what is seen as ‘normal’ and proves that you can still be pretty if you look a bit different,” Sarah Caraher, Sydney’s mother, told the Mirror. “It’s given Sydney such a huge confidence boost too and just reading out all the nice comments people have made has been good for her. When it first happened she lost her identity really, so it has taken her a while to find herself again.”

According to Nursing Standard, alopecia affects about one in 1,000 people, with most cases first developing during childhood. We don’t talk about it often enough, especially given just how common it is — and Sydney and her grandmother hope to change that.

“Alopecia can be a very cruel condition. You know when you walk down the street everyone is going to stare at you . . . My friends will apologize when they are talking about their hair,” Cunliffe told Wirral Globe. “It’s the little things that you take for granted that you miss, especially being a woman.”

“It took a long time for me to accept myself when I looked in the mirror, but now I’ve come to terms with it, and I say: ‘This is me,'” she continued. “It’s traumatic enough for me to go through it, but you don’t want your granddaughter to go through the same thing.”

While the experience was difficult for Sydney at first, she has done a ton of amazing things to help raise alopecia awareness in the past couple of years — and we are in awe of what an amazing young girl she is. Last year, she even sold a couple paintings on eBay to help raise money for Alopecia UK, according to Liverpool Echo.

“Sydney winning this should help make people aware of the condition, and that there is support out there if they need it,” Caraher told BBC. If she isn’t proof that girls are amazing, we don’t know who is.

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