A Problematic Post

I am not the kind of person who scrolls through social media looking for posts that will make me angry. And I’m certainly not the kind of person who likes the idea of calling someone out on their perceived wrongs via social media (or any other medium) because I think that it’s usually not constructive.

But I am the kind of person who thinks that word choice matters. So when I saw Autumn Calabrese, a celebrity fitness and nutrition expert, post the following text on Instagram, I got pretty upset. (Click photos to see them more clearly).

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset by this post. I’ve followed Autumn on Instagram for almost two and a half years now, ever since I subscribed to the popular Beachbody workout app. I really like her 21 Day Fix workout program because it kicks my butt every time in just 30 minutes. She comes across as a fun person who is really passionate about her job and enjoys the opportunity to help others, which is why I decided to follow her Instagram profile. Normally, I enjoy her posts because they’re filled with motivating fitness and eating tips that promote a healthier lifestyle. She definitely knows what she’s talking about when it comes to exercise and eating properly.

But after seeing this post, I think that Autumn – and people like her who are not educated in the minutiae chronic conditions like diabetes – needs to step off her soapbox.

She is using her post to say that diabetes – mind you, just generic “diabetes”, there’s no mention of any of the many types – is a lifestyle killer. She says that “the worst part about it is that you are 100% in control of if it happens to you.”

OMG. No, no, NO.

Forget that she was using the current coronavirus outbreak to promote her healthy eating plan (which in itself is a pretty weird way to advertise something) – she came after the diabetes community with this post. Now, I’ll never know what her true intent was, and I don’t care if Autumn was talking about a specific type of diabetes here. That doesn’t make a damn difference. The problem with this post is that she is perpetuating diabetes stigma and alluding to a myth that an individual has control over whether or not they get diabetes. Posts like this are the reason why there is so much confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to all types of diabetes, and I think she should be ashamed of herself for putting this on her profile.

It’s even more upsetting that she immediately got defensive when people started writing comments under her post, trying to inform and educate her. I was one of those people, and I think that I kindly and respectfully directed her to learn more by visiting beyondtype1.org so she could be better informed on all types of diabetes and maybe find out why what she wrote was harmful. Sadly, I never got a response, and her post remains on her profile, unchanged.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can also unfollow a person on social media and write a blog post to get your feelings out there, so that’s just what I’ll do here.

 

Memory Monday: That Time a Classmate Said That Having Diabetes Means You’re Screwed

One Monday per month, I’ll take a trip down memory lane and reflect on how much my diabetes thoughts, feelings, and experiences have unfolded over the years. Today, I remember…

…that one time in college when some random kid sitting near me in class said that having diabetes means “you’re screwed”. In other words, you can’t live with it, it’s a death sentence.

Before I talk about how I responded to that, I’ll provide some context. It was my freshman or sophomore year of college. I was in a discussion group for my Nutrition 101 seminar. It was early enough in my college career that I still felt painfully shy around most of my classmates, unless they happened to live in my dorm or I had known them in high school (even though I went to a college with an undergraduate population of more than 20,000, I’d still occasionally encounter a high school classmate – it’s a small world after all).

But when it comes to diabetes…well, I have a reputation for not being able to shut up about it. So when it inevitably came up over the course of the Nutrition class, and the teacher’s assistant asked us to define it, I felt a natural impulse to say everything I knew about it. I had to suppress it, though, because my fear of raising my hand in class was stronger than my desire to spew out an overly in-depth definition of diabetes.

So I let someone else answer the question, noting what was right and wrong about the response. As the T.A. launched into her notes on diabetes and nutrition, I overheard a muttered, ignorant comment from the kid next to me:

If you have diabetes, that means you’re screwed!

Your art is yours
As you might imagine, I didn’t take too kindly to his words.

While the dude sitting next to him laughed, I felt instant rage surge throughout my body. Without even thinking, I blurted out loud, just audibly enough for him to hear, “No, having diabetes does not mean you’re screwed. Whether you have type 1 or type 2, you can live a perfectly normal life with it. I would know, I have type 1.” I felt my face flush as I turned my attention back to the oblivious T.A. in the front of the room. In the corner of my eye, I saw that the kid was sitting there, mouth slightly agape, probably surprised that the quiet girl in discussion group spoke up to shut down his idiotic way of thinking.

It’s been several years since I was in this particular class, and I don’t remember much of the materials that were taught in it. But I do remember this exchange. It stands out to me because it’s a reminder of how far we’ve got to go as a society to defeat diabetes stigma and prove that you can do more than survive with diabetes – you can thrive with it.