November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, a good time to take stock of the past year.
If there is one indelible face that has become the symbol of Type 1 diabetes in 2015, it’s Nick Jonas, he of the dark hair, foxy gaze, and washboard abs. Never one to hide his diabetes, the pop star has put his Type 1 at the forefront, attaching a Dexcom CGM on said washboard abs for an advertising campaign, helping to create a Type 1 website (Beyond Type 1), and speaking out against a stupid CrossFit tweet making fun of diabetes. Not a bad year’s work.
But we need to stop fixating on him so much, and here’s why:
The diabetes online community is still very much a work in progress. As we’ve matured, we’ve become hungry to find a focus for a condition endured mainly in silence. That hunger creates the need for the BIG moment when FINALLY the world will see why it should take Type 1 diabetes seriously. We look to celebrities to carry the torch.
And sometimes it works. In 2014, Sierra Sandison, Miss Idaho, made jaws drop when she strode on the stage in a bikini with an insulin pump attached; her actions inspired the #showmeyourpump hashtag. There were a lot of great headlines generated for a few news cycles. Other times, the results are muddied. Jay Cutler is perhaps the most well-known athlete with Type 1, and he’s been very active in diabetes charity work. At times, he’s performed brilliantly and at other times he’s made rookie-like mistakes – and he has gained a reputation along the way, fairly or unfairly, of being a sourpuss of a teammate. And then there’s the confusing issue of Halle Berry, who seemed to suggest that she had Type 1 in 2007 and reversed it with diet; the consensus is that she probably had Type 2 and was initially misdiagnosed.
What do Jonas, Sandison, Cutler, and Berry all have in common besides being celebrities? They are all human, and therefore prone to doing great things and not-so-great things. They can get divorced, have substance abuse problems, and even not keep their blood sugar levels in check, just like anyone else. The problem is that when we put them on a pedestal as the standard bearers of the Type 1 diabetes community, any mistakes they make can have an outsized effect on our identity as a community.
It’s natural, and frankly fun, to focus on celebrities. My web browser history has way too many urls leading to articles on the Kardashians than I am comfortable admitting, and Insulin Nation writes probably half a dozen articles each year about big-name folks with Type 1. It’s just that we have to be careful that their stories don’t dominate the diabetes community conversation.
There are limits to the power of a celebrity. Celebrity culture won’t persuade your school district to enact policies to keep kids with Type 1 safe during the school day. Celebrity culture won’t get state laws changed to get better Type 1 screening for infants and toddlers. Celebrity culture won’t provide hand-holding, shoulder-to-cry-on support for a family confronting a new Type 1 diagnosis. That takes everyday people deciding to make a difference. We need to discuss those people just as much, if not more so, than stars with Type 1. Nick Jonas has done a service to the Type 1 diabetes community by being open about his diagnosis and supportive of the diabetes community, but he’s just one of thousands.
Each month this year, Insulin Nation will feature an everyday hero, someone who has taken it upon himself or herself to make a difference at the local level for people with diabetes. If you know of someone who we should consider, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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