Sarah Mena Panella and the beauty of being a little different

Sarah Mena Panella, in one of the campaign images.
Sarah Mena Panella, in one of the campaign images. / CARLOS CASTRO
  • A seven-year-old girl who suffers total hairloss due to an autoimmune disease is the new image of El Ingenio shopping centre after a social media vote

Seven-year-old Sarah Mena Panella from Rincón de la Victoria, who lost her hair three years ago due to the autoimmune disorder alopecia areata universalis, is the model for this year's spring campaign for the El Ingenio shopping centre in Vélez-Málaga.

Sarah's mother explains how being selected as the face of the campaign, through a vote on social media, had come as a great boost to the self-esteem of her daughter who is in her second year at the María del Mar Romera primary school in Rincón.

“We saw the rules on Facebook and then went to the shopping centre to ask; she was very excited about it and I thought it could be a good way for her to feel valued and admired, as we saw it wasn't down to a panel of judges but to people on social media,” said her mother María José Panella.

She admitted that Sarah's illness had been a tough blow.

“Everyone looks at her all the time in the park, in the street... everyone thinks she has cancer and is having treatment but she has no medication,” added Panella.

After the photo session with local photographer Carlos Castro, the decision was put to social media users.

Sarah won with a 700-vote advantage. The campaign was launched in the middle of March, with posters and advertisements, even on the side of buses, and continues until 30 June.


“Everyone congratulates her in the street,” said her mother for whom the best part of the story is that “you see a girl who is different doing something she normally wouldn't be able to do, like winning a beauty contest”. “Beauty lies in diversity,” she added.

Sarah has received a wig from the NGO Mechones Solidarios: “But I don't wear it all the time, because I sweat and it makes me hot,” she said.

With the 150 euros she has received as a prize she has been able to buy new clothes in several shops in the commercial centre.