Diabetes technology and body image
I had to be talked into getting my first insulin pump nine years ago. I really didn’t want one. I was managing my diabetes well on multiple daily injections and finger prick testing and I found injections quick and easy (once I got over my reluctance to do them in public). My endocrinologist finally convinced me because I was thinking about having a baby and she said the pump would make it easier to handle diabetes and pregnancy.
Why I didn’t want a pump
There are a few reasons why I was so against the idea of getting a pump, but the biggest barrier for me was body image (bear in mind these are the thoughts of an otherwise confident woman in her late 20s):
“I won’t be able to wear what I like”
“I don’t want people to see it and know there’s something ‘wrong’ with me”
“I don’t want to look different from other people”
“I’ll feel unattractive”
When I finally gave in and agreed to get one I rang my husband in tears because it felt like a real blow – Type 1 was starting to affect how I felt about my body on the outside not just that it wasn’t working properly on the inside. As ever, he was reassuring, promised he wouldn’t find me any less attractive and told me I should trust the doctor’s advice that getting one was a good idea.
My experience with a pump since that time has been really positive and I have definitely benefited from all the functionality they offer, but I have almost always worn mine hidden somewhere in my clothes. That’s been made even easier to do since I’ve switched to a remote controlled pump.
The power of seeing other people’s pumps (and CGMs, and Libres…)
Over the last few months I’ve realised how powerful it is to see other people openly wearing diabetes tech. The only campaign I remember to promote wearing a pump with pride was the #showmeyourpump initiative started by Sierra Sanderson. I thought that was fun, and I took a photo of mine to join in the campaign on Facebook (one of my friends misread pump for bump and thought I was announcing a pregnancy but never mind!) and then promptly hid it away again.
A few weeks ago there was a photo doing the rounds on social media of a woman wearing a pump and a CGM in an American Eagle clothing campaign. I, like many other women, was more affected by this than I expected to be. I felt quite emotional to see someone in an ad “like me” and I guess it made such an impact because it has never happened before.
Around the same time I went to my first ever diabetes conference (T1DGlobal in London) and this also shifted my perception of openly wearing diabetes tech. It was full of people proudly wearing their pumps, CGMs and Freestyle Libres. There was so much confidence in the room, it felt like being a wearer of that stuff made you a member of a special club, rather than something that makes you “other” in a negative way. I have relaxed more about my pump being on show since then.
No tears about getting the latest tech
On the back of all this I made the decision last week to order the Freestyle Libre flash sensor as an early birthday present to myself and I’m feeling a completely different set of emotions to the pump decision. I’m so excited, I’ve told everyone I’m getting it, and I don’t care at all that people will be able to see it.
So what’s changed for me? I think I’m more confident, more accepting of myself, and not trying to pretend to anyone that I don’t have Type 1 Diabetes. Making my life easier and getting better control of my blood sugars is more important than how my arm looks.
Seeing more people confidently wearing their diabetes tech online and in real life has really helped with that. Representation makes a difference.