Exposure – Helen May


It has been hard to miss the #nomakeupselfie on social media over the last month. Many of my friends have joined in and I have seen photos of some beautiful women with no make up. (There is less from the guys, because they never wear make-up.) Like many, I missed the connection with cancer but I am happy if it manages to raise awareness and money. However, I am saddened that it has highlighted the challenges many women and girls feel about exposing their true self. I think I have less concern about this exposure because I often feel exposed due to diabetes.

There is the flash of physical exposure of belly flesh and flab when I inject insulin. But, today, I am thinking about the mental exposure I feel too.

As my annual check-up approaches, I wait expectantly to have the results of my blood tests exposed and the possible lecture I may get from the specialist about having my hb1AC too high or too low or my cholesterol being too high. Getting it right every time is quite a challenge and, sometimes, I wonder if the healthcare professionals have any experience of these challenges. On one occasion, an obviously overweight specialist told me my BMI of nearly 23 was at the “higher end of ideal”.

But I feel the exposure most when I tell people about diabetes. Whilst I don’t hide it, I realise that when we first meet someone, we form an impression based on the information we gain. I have been on holiday and shared a room with a stranger. One of the first things I feel I should tell them is that I will be injecting as I am conscious that some people have needle phobias. But I then have to follow this up by telling them that I can look after myself – they do not have to worry about sharing a room with someone who is about to keel over because my blood sugars get too low. By exposing that I have diabetes, most people’s first thought seems to be about some weakness I have.

This perception of weakness is not just felt when people first meet me. I had been working with a colleague for some years. Due to the nature of my work, our collaboration was remote – by phone and email. But this did not stop us forming a friendship and discussing family, holidays and hobbies. So I was known to travel to Africa to track gorillas and spend my weekends climbing and love eating good food. Finally, we met. As usual, when I ate, I got out my insulin and my diabetes was exposed. This colleague and friend was shocked. He said he was “disappointed in me”. This was because he had formed an impression of me through our long distance discussion of a strong independent woman. Now he knew I had diabetes, he felt I was weak.

I do not want to rain on the parade of the #nomakeupselfie and the £2M and more that it is raising for the cancer charities. If the point that is being made is that by removing our make up, women are exposing themselves, I wonder if there should be a #insulinselfie campaign. We can photograph ourselves injecting insulin or dialling up a dose on our pump. On the other hand, I am not sure I am ready to expose myself and my diabetes to all through a photo linking me so obviously to my weakness; I am happier to hide behind the words on my blog.

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