Sunday 14 February 2016

Stigma, diabetes-shaming and that joke about Bob.

I used to find jokes about diabetes funny; especially that one about Bob.  I liked it because it was sarcastic and witty, and there was no conceivable way anyone would think chocolate could cause diabetes.  That's what was funny about it, no?  My favourite blogs were ones which used humour to talk about life with diabetes, and my family and friends shared in-jokes a-plenty about diabetes and the many foibles living with it brings. But then something changed.  

Sometime around my late twenties people stopped asking "What is diabetes?", when the topic inevitably came up as my paraphernalia appeared, and instead people started to ask me questions about what I did to get it, or tell me they had known someone who got rid of it (chortle).  In my late twenties at University came questions from seemingly intelligent friends about whether or not I knew that my 'foot was going to fall off' from eating a chocolate bar (thank you, Scrubs), and then along came MatthewWright-gate when angry online conversations were held about 'diabetes-triggering 'Easter Eggs. Suddenly it wasn't so funny when I realised that people did believe it and that worse still - the hobby of diabetes-shaming had begun.

This year I will reach 30 years of having lived with type 1 diabetes.  I was diagnosed long before the internet, Sky TV and smart phones came about, and if we wanted to learn anything about diabetes we had to look it up in a giant book warehouse called a library (Google it). Since then with the dawn of the technological era, information can literally arrive at your fingertips with the flick of a button, the ping of a news alert or by the dulcet tones of Siri.  And information equals education, right? Sadly, no.

Jamie Oliver: Anti-Diabetes Warrior
When I was young and diabetes was raised in conversation, my clumsy 11 year-old self would try to give the best definition of what I was living with, hoping it might make sense. I hadn't yet thought of Jeff.  But now that people can easily find photos of the loveable Jamie Oliver standing in front of a coke bottle with the word 'diabetes' blamefully written on the side, or shop for tasteless greetings cards at Sainsbury's where diabetes is once again the butt of a joke, it has become publicly acceptable to use diabetes as a punch line.  With the era of accessible information also came the era of misinformation, and the blaming of people with diabetes for their own condition.  Suddenly everybody's an expert, and diabetes is fair-game for ridicule.

I recently took to Social Media to ask Sainsbury's for a conversation about that diabetes card (and also of course to ask where I can pick up a piece from their emphysema range, or if the do an asthma-specific selection), because the joke just isn't funny any longer - not when people struggle to separate truth from ridiculous humour.  I have been accused of lacking a sense of humour and of needing to lighten up, but here's the thing, if teenagers stop being bullied due to the image that 'diabetes' now has, or people with type 2 stop living with constant stigma as a result of me temporarily shelving my sense of humour and arguing the point, so be it.

The fact is the Sainsburys card isn't even particularly offensive. It's tasteless at worst.  But it insinuates and represents everything which is wrong with the way diabetes is treated both in the media and over coffee-table conversations around the world. We've come such a long way in thirty years.  Technologically we are in the most exciting season of diabetes. We are in the Summer of  advances in medical equipment and hope for a 'cure'.  But when it comes to diabetes-shaming and the way in which diabetes is used as comedy canon-fodder, we are firmly mid-Winter. We have learnt nothing in the last three decades. 

The answer is seven; Bob has seven candy bars.


  1. The main problem is having 2 barely related diseases called "Diabetes".

    As a Type1, I would be more than happy to leave the " Diabetes" name with t2s, and have a totally newly named disease.

    "Insulinism" or similar

  2. I can see where you are coming from, at 8 years old (December 1986)I was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes, and yes technology has come a long way, I've never been ridiculed for having it, I can sort of see the slightly humerous side of the cake, but the photo of the coke can makes my blood boil, and makes me think, would Jamie Oliver put that photo up if he suffered from type 1 diabetes???
    Hmm I doubt it

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