How we see ourselves in the world has a lot to do with if we see ourselves in the world.
The world is a fast-paced social media-centric place nowadays. And a lot of what we deem to be normal and/or acceptable comes from pages and/or screens. Pages and screens that are created using sweeping brush strokes and filtered vision.
Yet we accept them to be a true representation of what we must aspire to be, what is considered normal, attractive, acceptable.
Young, thin, able-bodied, mentally stable, athletic, glowing white teeth, glowing white skin, young, perfect hair, perfect face, perfect fucking everything. Not one single smidge of a fucking thing out of place…
And these images, while encouraging and inspiring in some light (I guess), are harmful.
The truth is real reality does not sell. The truth is no one really wants their life relayed back to them. The truth is no one really wants that kind of honesty.
We simply do not trust ourselves to know what is good for us.
We accept those perfect people and allow them to represent us. We should not. There should be a greater demand from us to see us.
We, the full spectrum of human differences.
Because the truth is, there is more of us than there is of them.
And in that we should take some comfort.
All the Colours of the Rainbow
You have probably noticed that I am not a person of colour.
However, I am a human being, and it has always bothered me that the diabetes (especially the T1D) community comes across more than a little whitewashed and lacking diversity.
The T1D community is severely lacking in visible inclusivity, and this can be dangerous.
For example, there is an overwhelming number of people of colour misdiagnosed with T2D. I would argue that is due to underrepresentation, and misinformed healthcare professionals.
What about the LGBTQIA+ community? We rarely (if ever) see them represented in the mainstream diabetes community.
What about ALL the other flavours of T1D humans? Why do we not see people with physical or psychiatric disabilities? Older people with type 1 diabetes? Or humans with larger bodies?
Basic needs do not vary between those living with T1D.
If there was a greater presence of all people, it would only prove to be positive and helpful to others. It has been shown that greater visual representation can lead to greater success. Meaning, in the case of all those underrepresented folks, it would likely lead to more successful management and better overall health.
I have attended several diabetes events and functions, but they are always absent of diversity. The truth is POC, LGBTQIA+ folk, those of us with mental illness, those with physical disabilities, and everyone in between (please forgive me if I have generalized and/or excluded anyone, it is not my intention to do so) are almost always excluded in favour of what society views as the norm, the ideal… and for me, it is maddening.
The truth is social media/media is what influences people nowadays.
Underrepresentation covers all people who are excluded, discriminated against, without a voice. And it is observable in the diabetes community. We must take it seriously and push for improvement.
Aged to (Im)Perfection
I am not a 20-something.
In fact, later this year I will celebrate four decades on this planet.
And that leaves me struggling to relate to the bulk of the folks who visually represent the T1D community in the social spheres (and marketing materials). Understandably, they have grown up with social media and are arguably better equipped to navigate and utilize it.
But that is not the real issue.
The issue is no one seems to think that those of us nearing/in middle-age or older need representation. Because society strives for this presentation of perfection, it would now seem that excludes aging. And that makes no sense to me. Especially if you take it down to the dollar. The most underrepresented age group in the diabetes community is essentially the one with the greatest disposable income.
For me, it comes down to relatability.
Menopausal me, with my wrinkles, stretch marks, graying hair, and fluctuating weight, can hardly relate to a flawless teenager galivanting around an amusement park with their equally “perfect” pals flaunting the latest in diabetes gear or technology.
Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that portrayal. There are plenty of young type 1s for whom that would have great appeal. However, do not aim it at me and expect me to feel represented.
Visual ageism in social media/media is highly problematic beyond commercial profitability.
Some of the absentee images can be explained away by the digital divide. Younger generations flood the social media spaces, which are significantly more popular with the under 30 crowd, and this is reinforced by companies who produce content exclusively for that age group.
An easy fix would be to generate and share content inclusive of all ages. As we know type 1 diabetes is a lifelong illness and does not disappear with youth. Diabetes companies need to get on board with this mentality and communicate positive messages about aging.
Because we all age.
And along with that positivity must come a normalization of the complications that will present later, both because of living with diabetes for several years and aging. As I said, I am menopausal. But I will be damned if I can find any sign of others…
If you have spent any time with me, you will know my struggles with BDD and body image. And how I seriously dislike having my picture taken.
Like I super fucking hate it. HATE. IT.
Which may come as a shock to some because of the pictures posted on my social channels. The truth is, I nearly vomit prior to every post. I can sit for hours tormented and should I, should I not-ing myself until I muster the courage to click the button. I do it for accountability.
Truth be told, I now set things to post via a scheduler to free up mental space, eliminating anxiety and reducing stress.
Last year, prior to the pandemic, I went to Barcelona to talk about my life and how it has changed since going on my insulin pump. During our time there I was also photographed and filmed.
*GULP* – two stipulations that nearly caused me to decline the offer.
The morning I received those pictures, to look at and approve, shattered me. And while I knew the moment was coming, opening that email nearly killed me. The company was really pleased with them, the incredibly talented photographer produced some amazing images, the scenery was exceptional. But I, of course, did not like one.
In fact, I found them difficult to look at. And I desperately wanted to email back and refuse the request to use them.
However, I emailed back full approval for whatever they wanted to use.
Why? Because they wanted me.
This imperfect being riddled with all the things society fights so hard to keep hidden.
I am nearing 40, I do not wear makeup or colour my hair, society views me as overweight, my skin is riddled with imperfections (everything from blemishes to vitiligo), I am covered in tattoos, socially awkward, my teeth far from glowing white, I am short, not athletic, struggling with multiple mental illnesses and exceptional far from extraordinary…
And it would be hypocritical to deny them.
So, I will continue to demand and push for representation of the full spectrum of human differences, of all dimensions of diversity, in the diabetes community. I will continue to post pictures of myself and flood the social sphere with my wrinkles, rolls, and stretchmarks along with my medical devices. And I will continue call out underrepresentation of all kinds.
Because we all deserve to be represented.
Because we are all humans.
We all feel things, have emotions, and shit regularly (or at least we should).