Ever felt insulted by diabetes imagery?

10 Jan 2023
Navin Khosla medical writer
Navin Khosla
Medical Writer
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Diabetes mellitus is a serious but manageable condition that affects millions of people around the world. Despite this, diabetes is often portrayed in a negative light by brands, mainstream and social media. From ads that portray people with diabetes as sick and weak to news stories that focus on the costs of managing the condition, the message is clear: diabetes is a burden.

It’s no secret that diabetes care can be difficult to manage and the complications of diabetes are extremely serious. Regardless of which type of diabetes you have been diagnosed with, there’s a lot to keep track of; your treatment options, blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight, consuming healthy food, and incorporating physical activity into the day to name a few. When things go wrong, the consequences can be serious. That’s why it’s so important to see an accurate and realistic portrayal of diabetes in the media.

Too often, diabetes is portrayed as a death sentence or a life of suffering. This doesn’t do anyone any favours. This portrayal is not only inaccurate, but it can also be harmful. Negative stereotypes can lead to decreased self-esteem, social isolation, and mental health issues all of which can affect your wellness and make it more difficult to manage diabetes effectively. It’s time for a change.

People with diabetes need to see that it is possible to live a full and happy life, despite the challenges. They need to know that they are not alone. Brand campaigns that focus on positivity and community-building can go a long way towards changing the way that diabetes is viewed by the public. When people with diabetes feel supported and seen, they are more likely to stay compliant with their treatment plan – that’s good for everyone involved.

As a company, we often have to source, access and create visual content. We try to use ones that aim to accurately and ethically represent the people we support. Despite being widely known and widespread, popular culture ignores people living with diabetes. The images used to show diabetes are depressing and inaccurate.

The real experiences of people with diabetes are rarely represented. Therefore, this often forces organisations to in turn – knowingly or not – reinforce negative imagery. Imagery is at the heart of how we self-reflect and project as individuals. As a company we do not want to convey a message that rejects, excludes or confounds our users.

At Now Patient, we’re calling for a change. For instance, we want to help rethink how diabetes is represented. We need to see more accurate and respectful representations of people with diabetes in the media. Only then will we be able to reduce the stigma surrounding the condition and create a more supportive environment for those who live with it. It’s time that depictions of diabetes match the lived experience of real people with diabetes. We’re going to debunk the diabetes aesthetic.

Our Manifesto

To play our part in raising awareness, we created a manifesto. Below is a summary of our priorities. Above all, we would love it if you get involved in any of these efforts.

Change the way that diabetes is portrayed by brands and in the media

When most people think of diabetes, they think of things like insulin injections and blood sugar levels. While it’s true that these are important aspects of managing the disease, there’s so much more to it than that.

Diabetes is a complex condition that affects every aspect of a person’s life. It’s a lifelong journey and one that requires constant management and care. That’s why it’s so important for brands and the media to change the way they portray diabetes. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects, they should highlight the strength and resilience of those who live with the condition. They should show that diabetes doesn’t have to be a death sentence, but rather a manageable condition that can be controlled with the right treatment plan.

By changing the way diabetes is portrayed, we can help to change the way people view the condition – and ultimately make it easier for those who live with it to get the support and care they need.

Diabetes affects all sorts of people from all walks of life. Unfortunately, the images that accompany the topic in the news, advertising, and other media overwhelmingly depict one type of person.

Similarly, they primarily show people who are unhealthily overweight and almost always white.

There is too much emphasis on the visceral image of an insulin needle breaking the skin (often in the wrong place). Too little on the rest of the person’s life. As a result, people misunderstand and misinterpret the intricacy behind diabetes.

The images show people suffering with diabetes. Not living with diabetes. 

Diabetes is a personal condition, therefore it should be better represented. We will call on all types of media to use more human and natural imagery around diabetes.

In addition, we want to remove stigma, and support the community through positive representation – and we’re going to call out images that fall short. As a result, we hope to use this to really show all the angles diabetes looks like – for everyone.

Educate people to remove stereotypes.

Unreflective images of diabetes stem from a lack of education about the condition and its causes. Diabetes is often seen as a “lifestyle disease” that is the result of poor diet and lack of exercise. However, this is not always the case. In fact, Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood, and occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin and blood glucose levels become too high (hyperglycemia). Type 2 diabetes on the other hand progresses over many years and is caused by your body developing a resistance to insulin, resulting in high blood sugar.

There are many different risk factors that can contribute to the development of diabetes, including genetics, family history, high blood pressure, prediabetes, gestational diabetes and some medical conditions.

The important thing to remember is that diabetes is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. By educating people about the risks and symptoms of diabetes, we can help to remove the stigma and stereotypes associated with the disease. At Now Patient, we aim to debunk these stereotypes by separating fact from fiction and educating the public about this condition.

There is a lot of support out there for you – family, friends, and your healthcare professional team. And we’re here for you too. We vow to spread information about the realities of life with diabetes and resources to support individuals in sharing their experiences.

Normalise diabetes

All too often, people with diabetes feel like they have to hide their condition or pretend that everything is normal. This is why it’s so important to normalise diabetes. Diabetes is part of the lives of many people. They deserve to have their experiences heard and understood. By sharing our stories and experiences, we can help others to understand what it’s like to live with this condition. We can also provide support and advice and improve the well-being of those who are struggling to manage their diabetes. Ultimately, normalising diabetes will help to improve the lives of everyone affected by this condition.

Now Patient aims to share their stories so that collectively we can work toward a better understanding of the condition.

We seek to improve the representation of diabetes by creating a pledge and inviting all to join it. Our pledge is to seek out, produce, and only use diabetes imagery that represents the broad and lived experiences of people living with the condition.

Starting this Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re taking a stand. Keep an eye out to learn more so you can find out how to get involved.

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