Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I've been doing some thinking lately about stereotypes of diabetes. I expect the general media to propagate stereotypes, because most of the writers have only a general knowledge of diabetes, and most of the time, they're writing about people with T2 who fall under the hump of the bell curve.

But as I pay more attention to ads from the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and manufacturers of products for people with diabetes, I think they're doing just as much harm. I'm looking at it from a couple of angles, so let me approach T1 first.

First off, it seems to me that these organizations present T1 diabetes as a young person's disease. There is a great emphasis on children, probably because the ads, especially ads for insulin and other diabetes supplies, but also JDRF ads target parents of T1 children. And as such, the message seems to be "You're normal! You can do anything!" But what's left out is "If you are careful and diligent about managing your diabetes." These parents know, better than anyone else, how difficult it is to manage diabetes in a young, growing child, and they've seen hypoglycemia at its worst, and DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis), and yet the advertising of the JDRF doesn't reflect how much work and worry goes into raising a child with diabetes. I understand that parents don't want their child to grow up feeling impaired, or feeling disabled, but the reality is still there, and although adults with T1 DO achieve many great things, no one who has experienced T1 can deny that there is a cost to their achievements that non-diabetics don't have to pay.

The second thing that I notice about publicity from the JDRF is that they almost always seem to depict children or young, slender, attractive adults engaged in athletics. But that is not a real picture for many people with T1. There are obese T1s and intellectual T1s and older T1s and disabled T1s, etc. We aren't all young people on bicycles. Some of us would much rather be reading a book, or shopping with our friends, or doing woodworking. So, in sum, I would like to see much more diversity in the ads put out by the JDRF.

Now let me go on to the depiction of people with T2. Many of the ads I've seen depict an attractive, slender, gray-haired person or and older couple with a small child. Or an attractive "young-old" couple on bicycles. A few have shown larger people, but not people whom anyone would perceive as obese. Again, I think it's demeaning not to show people in their true diversity -- attractive and well-dressed are good things, but what about a lovely, truly obese woman or a handsome obese man? How about showing a variety of ages and NOT including a cute 3-year-old?

I'm pretty sure I'm going to get some negative responses to this post, which is actually OK with me, because what I want is for people to think about how we're being manipulated by the power interests, and what life around us is really like. Just like I'd love to see a clothes model who looked like me, I'd love to see diabetes depicted as it really is, not like it might be in some imaginary fairyland where we're all rich, slim, famous, and don't struggle for a minute.


  1. Duck, I agree with you. I once wrote to a diabetes mag about it, and in the next edition, their cover photo showed a grossly obese woman in a bathing suit. One extreme to another.

    What gets me is that all the photos show people smiling. Especially common is one of those slim gray-haired couples smiling as they fix colorful salads. Sometimes they're running up a deserted beach. How many people actually run on the beach? And are there any deserted beaches anymore?

    But I suppose if they showed fat people sobbing as they jabbed their fingers and ate salad while their friends were having pizza, no one would buy their magazines. I don't either anymore.

  2. Great post, awesome you brought this up, said it well. Type 1 diabetes is not a disease of the young. Not unless you were living in the 20s when the only type 1's you saw were children because they did not have life saving insulin and never grew up. Today, adults are diagnosed with type 1 all the time, and guess what, kids grow up. Very fast. But Kids get sympathy. Poor little kid with diabetes they suffer so much, is the message that is trying to be portrayed, because it gets attention. Kids in actuality need the LEAST support. They need a lot of support. But the least out of all diabetes groups in my opinion. Parents of children with diabetes, now THATS a group that could use some caregiving the caregiver stuff. Young adults, going through one of the toughest transition periods of anyone's life, then add to it they have diabetes and they left the coddling pediatric world to be dropped smack into the cold cruel adult world of judgements and endocrinologists. Your not cute or cuddly anymore. We can't blame your hormones. So therefore, we blame you. You will be judged. Or adults, already sure of who they are and in the prime of their life (20-40s), being told all of a sudden they have diabetes and will have to change everything they ever knew. Now or die. I was a child with diabetes. I didn't need everyone everywhere being like oh thats so sad that little girl has diabetes and oh, she's so brave she takes shots wow even I cant do that. I didn't feel brave. I didn't feel like I deserved extra sympathy. Yes sometimes I got very frustrated and could have used more support and understanding. But it became my new life and I adapted. Children adapt really well, they are resilient. And a lot of how they cope and think of their situations are how those around them do. Ever seen a kid fall down? First, they haven't decided whether to freak out or not. What do they do? Look straight to their parents...The reaction you see turns out quite different depending on the look on their parents faces. Not on the intensity of their injuries.

  3. Now, when I came into that pre-adolescent stage all the way to adulthood, that's when I could have used some of that attention. But eyes were turned the other way. And especially when I not only became an older and thus my disease became more silent and less worthy of attention, then I became larger. That's when I needed the most help. When I looked like a type 2 patient, got mistaken for one all the time. Of course I didn't deserve sympathy, I must have done something to deserve my disease. And this brings me to type 2. I am not a 2. But I look like what someone would envision the stereotypical type 2 looking like (except a bit younger). And for all I know I would be one if it weren't for type 1. Haha confusing enough? But now, I am the least deserving of anyone's sympathy because of how I look. So I empathize seeing the disdain for type 2's and knowing how unfair it is. You know much of why I became the way I am? Because I had no support for diabetes when I needed it most. So to spite my mean doctors and neglectful family I harmed myself with food. So yes, I created the monster I am. I suppose if that makes people think I deserve this mess, then that's them. I know I now have the choice not to use my past as an excuse for the here and now. And I struggle with that daily. But my unhealthy coping stemmed from the negative reactions from a disease I never asked for, a family I never asked for, and a situation I never asked for. Guess what, we are all the same in that way. Each and every one of us. We struggle, and most of us don't deserve misery even if people see it as self-created. And even so called self-created misery has a story to tell behind it. One that, if people actually listened to, would make them cry and feel like a horrible person for ever being so judgmental. But the book cover isn't shiny and pretty, so they throw it out before they ever hear it. So that brings me back around. Yes, the face of diabetes is not being shown with its true diversity even within the groups that supposedly represent us folks with diabetes, who are very much so such a diverse group. And that is because they are trying to gain sympathy, because that is what brings money. But honestly, we all could use a bit less sympathy and a lot more togetherness, support, acceptance, and understanding. Even if it means some people don't give money.

  4. Anonymous, you bring up a point I didn't mention, but which is very apropos. NO ONE should be eyeballed to establish their diagnosis. I was formally diagnosed at age 44, and because of that, it was assumed I was T2. But the ironic thing is that I was NOT obese, and I did not respond to the sulfonylureas at all, whereas insulin has worked just fine for me. I am also not greatly insulin resistant. But still, there are medical professionals who just assume I'm T2, because of my age (I'm now 65) and my greatest fear is that I will be hospitalized and they will withhold insulin thinking I'm a T2. This fear is realistic, because it already happened once, and the results were not pretty. And as a result, I'm deathly afraid of hospitals if I'm not mentally competent to be in charge of my insulin.