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 reality doesn’t 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 actually good for us.
We accept those perfect people and allow them to represent us. And we shouldn’t. There should be a greater demand from us to see us. We, the full spectrum of human differences.
Because the truth is, there’s more of us than there is of them.
And in that we should take some comfort.
All the Colours of the Rainbow
Recently, a wonderful organization (T1International) launched their Communities of Color Campaign to coincide with Black History Month. And I couldn’t get enough of it.
You’ve probably noticed that I am not a person of colour. But I am a human being. And it has always bothered me that the Type 1 Diabetes community comes across a little white washed and definitely lacking diversity. So, to see all of those amazing folks represented was nothing short of inspiring.
And honestly, I was like, fucking finally!
T1International has committed to raising awareness about the exclusion of People of Colour (POC) in our community in an ongoing manner, to bring about a greater representation of those amazing folks. And I commend them for it.
What about the LGBTQ+ community? We rarely see them represented in the mainstream diabetes community.
As my beloved pal would say, where are all the Queerabetics?
Diabetes Mine produced an article about that last year.
Their basic needs are no different than the rest of the folks living with T1D. And if they had a greater presence it would only prove to be positive and helpful to others. It has been proven that greater visual representation can lead to greater success. In the case of those T1D LGBTQ+ folks it would likely lead to more successful management and better overall health.
While there are several peer supports and resources in place within the T1D LGBTQ+ community the T1D community itself still lacks visible inclusivity.
I have attended several events and functions but they are always absent of diversity. The truth is POC, LGBTQ+ folk, those of us with mental illness, those who are differently-abled, 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 these days. And when people are underrepresented it is harmful.
Master of Representation
There is another group often underrepresented, and I may receive some flack for this: MEN.
But it is true. At least, at the T1D community based events and functions I have personally attended. They are all quite obviously female-centric.
And I know it is felt, as many of my male diabuddies have expressed this to me.
As a woman, I am strongly in favour of a more equal representation in all things. But our equality should not come via the exclusion of another gender or group. If it does, it can hardly be called equal, can it?
Part of the reason for this, in my opinion, is the overrepresentation of the male gender everywhere else. Even in 2020 women are heavily underrepresented in film, television, print, politics…literally everywhere. So I think it fair to suggest that some doors are being closed subconsciously yet deliberately.
Other reasons for this include the general landscape of society and the continued portrayal of certain stigmatizing, traditional male gender roles. Society still does not accept that a man can be strong and emotionally expressive.
Men are allowed to think T1D sucks. They are also going to be presented with unique situations and side effects only T1D men will encounter. They should have easier access to the peer support and resources to help see them through.
There needs to be a greater representation of the diversity amongst men too. We need to abolish the mentality that a man is some sort of sports oriented superhuman who strides through life untouched by emotion or suffering.
I think that mentality ultimately sets men up for failure. Especially if it leaves them feeling isolated from a community they very much deserve to be part of.
Aged to Imperfection
I am not a 20-something. In fact, I am nearly a decade out from being one. And that leaves me struggling to relate to the bulk of the folks who visually represent the T1D community.
Understandably, they have grown up with social media and are better equipped to navigate and utilize it. But that isn’t the real issue. The issue is no one seems to think that those of us nearing/in middle-age need representation because society strives for this presentation of perfection that seems to disclude aging.
Which makes no sense to me. Especially if you take it down to the dollar. The most underrepresented age group in the T1D community is essentially the one with the greatest disposable income.
So you would think companies looking to capitalize would take advantage of that and more specifically gear their marketing efforts in a more representative fashion, right?
For me, it comes down to relatability. Menopausal me, with my wrinkles and fluctuating weight, can hardly relate to a teenager galavanting around an amusement park with their pals flaunting the latest in diabetes gear. Not that there’s anything wrong with that portrayal. Just don’t aim it at me and expect me to feel represented.
Visual ageism in social media/media is highly problematic beyond commercial profitability. Positive representation is likely to lead to more successful management and overall better health.
Fuck, any representation would be nice!
If you have spent any time with me here (or my other blog) 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 selfies I post on my social media sites. The truth is, I nearly vomit prior to each and every post like that. I sit for hours tormented “should I, shouldn’t I”-ing myself until I muster the courage to click the button. I do it for accountability.
You will also know that I recently went to Barcelona to talk about my life and how it has changed since going on my insulin pump. During our time their I was also photographed and filmed.
Two stipulations that nearly caused me to decline the offer to speak.
This morning I received those pictures. To look at and approve. And while I knew this moment was coming, opening that email still filled me with dread. The company was really pleased with them, and the photographer produced some truly amazing images, the scenery was exceptional.
But I, of course, didn’t like any of them. I found them really difficult to look at. And I desperately wanted to email back and refuse them the right to use them.
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.
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.
And it would be hypocritical of me to deny them.
I will continue to demand representation of the full spectrum of human differences, of all dimensions of diversity, in the T1D community.
I will continue to fight for all those visible differences like ethnic background, differently-abled, age, and gender; and, I will continue to fight for those invisible differences like economic status, marital status, mental illness, and sexual orientation.
Because we all deserve to be represented.
Because we are all fucking human. We all feel things, we all have emotions and we all shit regularly. Or, at least, we should.