Humans are social creatures, the sense of belonging and fitting in a community are deeply-rooted physiological needs that every person experiences. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, isolation and alienation have been increasing among people from various age groups, which has a negative impact on one’s mental health. However, a global health crisis such as COVID isn’t the only case when it comes to feeling left out or even misunderstood. Being different is the other.
People with chronic health conditions like diabetes are often viewed as “abnormal” since their everyday habits differ from the ones of a healthy person. Often called “the fourth estate”, the media have a huge influence over public opinion and when they take on spreading misinformation about people with diabetes by portraying a false picture of the condition, it creates stigma about diabetes and builds a negative connotation about the people who struggle with the disease. This is why it is crucial to build realistic and informative representations to help educate society.
Diabetes representation in the media: How NOT to do it
There are numerous examples of TV shows and films that make fun of PWD. Usually, how that goes is by assuming that anyone who is overweight must be a diabetic. One of the most popular misinterpretations about the condition seen both on the big and small screen is that if you eat sugar, you’ll get diabetes. Or that everyone with diabetes needs insulin injections, and that they are forbidden even to taste anything remotely sweet.
These portrayals aim to make people with diabetes stand out for the sole purpose of being picked on and humiliated. The reason why these scenes are deeply problematic is not only that they are spreading false information about a serious and very common health condition, but also that they are using someone’s health issue as a source of entertainment. As a punching bag for bad jokes. The late 90s and early 2000s were the “golden age” for this type of media representation but luckily, in recent years there has been a light at the end of the tunnel.
What we’d like to see more of
2022 has seen a rise in positive and realistic representation of people with diabetes in the media space. Moreover, the formats that those representations have come, have been very diverse and we love that! From animated movies to live-action films, video games, and even fashion shows! Here are our top picks for diabetes representation and advocacy in the media, done right.
1. Pixar’s “Turning Red”
The most recent animation of Pixar Studios tells the story of a young girl who discovers the ability to turn into a giant red panda when angry or scared. What caught our eye is one of her schoolmates, who is wearing a blood sugar sensor in a classroom scene.
T1D representation is very important for children and young adults, especially when they’ve been recently diagnosed and are still dealing with accepting the diagnosis. The animation shows two more instances where children wearing diabetes gear are shown during the film. Another girl is wearing a blood sugar sensor in one of the bathroom scenes and we also get a glimpse of a CGM pump towards the end of the story.
2.“The Baby-Sitters Club” series
The story of the show meets us with a group of teenage girls who work as babysitters. However, one of them has a secret she is scared to reveal. Stacey McGill has type 1 diabetes and all her life, she and her mom have been mistreated because of it. There is some tension when her “secret” is revealed but in the end, it all goes right for Stacey, and her friendship with the others is made even stronger. The story is based on a book series from the 90s and has captured the hearts of millions.
3. A diabetes island on “Animal Crossing”
The video game “Animal Crossing” has been a popular source of entertainment in recent years. Each user owns an island and is free to build anything they’d like on it, design it however they’d like, and more. In one of the recent additions to the game, there is a diabetes island that everyone can visit, hosted by JDRF, Beyond Type 1, and other amazing organizations aiming to include diabetes representation in the world of video games. On the island, you can solve an obstacle maze, sing in a concert, explore themed areas like diabetes camp, Bolus Beach, the A1 Sea, and so much more.
4. Lila Moss at the 2022 Met Gala
The model attended the biggest event for the fashion world wearing a see-through dress showing a blood sugar sensor on her right arm and a CGM pump on her left leg. Her look made heads turn and it only took a few hours until there was a ton of media coverage talking about blood sugar management and how technology helps control it.
Lila has type 1 diabetes and despite her young age (19), she has been an advocate for diabetes representation in the beauty world on numerous occasions throughout her aspiring career.
The power of social media
If 10 years ago role models were Hollywood celebrities, today’s social media influencers have totally captured the attention of people. Diabetes influencers have also taken the stand to spread awareness about the condition and their message is being heard by millions on a daily basis!
Moreover, social media platforms provide a space for communities of peers to form. If there isn’t anyone else with diabetes in your family or friend group, you can feel alone or misunderstood. However, social media communities present an opportunity for networking with people who are similar to you – share ideas, give advice or feedback on products, tell personal stories about their diabetes journey and so much more.
Representation is extremely important to help an individual feel seen, heard, and understood. When done correctly, it helps educate society on topics that it isn’t so familiar with such as what the different types of diabetes are, how to spot the warning signs of low or high blood sugar levels, or what’s not OK to say to someone with diabetes. This information can help in emergency situations but also help eliminate stigma and build a society that is maybe just a bit nicer because after all, you never know what life can bring.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Did we miss any important examples of diabetes representation in the media? Tell us in the comment section below!