Every so often, we get questions here at our weekly advice column, Ask D'Mine!, that flat out break our hearts. Today, your host Wil Dubois, a veteran type 1 and diabetes educator & author, is responding to a teenage girl facing some pretty cruel treatment at her school relating to diabetes. Ouch...Ask-DMine_button

{Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com}

 

Taylor, type 1 from Oregon, writes: Hi, I'm 13 and got diagnosed with type 1 at age 10... I was wanting to know why people always associate diabetes with the word FAT! At school there are some nasty rumors going around, any advice on how to stop them? (PS: they say things like, oh she has diabetes, she probably ate too much, fat cow.)  It hurts! Help!

Wil@Ask D'Mine answers: So, MikeH and I talked this over and we decided to be your diabetes big brothers. As such, who can we beat up for you? Oh. Wait. Sorry, our editor AmyT says violence never solves anything and that I should just give you the tools you need to take care of yourself instead.

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But seriously, Taylor, your letter broke my heart. And I'm sure it will break the hearts of every other adult who reads it. Why? Because we can feel your pain. Because we experienced that same pain when we were young. And we want to forget it, not re-live it. Yeah, your painful experience is a human universal. We're sometimes just plain cruel to each other. What's up with that?

I don't know for sure, but I have one idea.

One of my co-workers shares my fascination for paleo-archeology. Not long ago I gave her an article that dealt with the fact that there were dozens of hominid species at the dawn of time, all genetically unrelated to us. It seems like our lot killed off all the others in a wicked game of last hominid standing. My co-worker's dry remark after reading the article during our morning commute was, "So we're all descended from the meanest monkey on the planet, is that it?"

Actually, if you think about it, that would explain a lot.

Now you asked me two questions, and I hope you'll forgive me for tackling the easy one first: Why do people associate diabetes with fat? The answer is simple, because diabetes is associated with fat. Roughly 90% of people in the world who have diabetes have type 2. And although being fat doesn't cause type 2, it's a big part of the recipe. And a lot, but not all, of people with type 2 remain heavy. Some of them are extremely obese. The same genes that fuel type 2 make it damn hard for type 2s to lose weight. Even with superhuman effort, some type 2s simply can't. So for decades, members of the general public have viewed fat and diabetes as going together and have assumed that one causes the other. In general, but especially in matters of health, people only learn about things that touch them personally. If you or your loved ones don't have diabetes, you really don't have any reason or motivation to learn more about it. And when people have no compelling reason to learn something, general stereotypes in ashamedsociety take over as fact in their minds.

Now, as to how to stop those nasty rumors and hurtful comments, this is tough. I don't know why, but kids tease other kids who are different. It's probably that whole mean-monkey thing. I'd bet if you gathered up a room full of kids who were nearly alike in every possible way, they'd find some way to single each other out. Being young is hard, and I wouldn't be your age again for any amount of money. Now, I gather from what you say that you are heavy. You also have diabetes. And I can tell by how you express yourself with words that you are smart. So right there I can find three things you could be teased about: your weight, your diabetes, and your intelligence. Even if you lost weight, you'd still have diabetes, and you'd still be smart. There's nothing you can do to keep people who are dead-set on teasing you from doing it.

But you do have an ace up each sleeve, yours to deploy in any way you want. The first is that you can choose how you decide to feel about what others say; and the other is what, if anything, you should say back.

Now that first one is easier said than done, of course. It's hard not to get our feelings hurt when people say mean things. Even as adults we struggle with this. I think it's probably impossible to be a good, caring, decent person and not get your feelings hurt when someone says something mean. I'm able to maintain a pretty good sense of humor most times, but even my feelings get bruised when people say nasty things in the "comments" sections of my posts. But if you can develop a strong sense of self-worth, and focus on what you know your strengths as a person are, it can help. What we know to be true about ourselves is more important than what other people say about us.

That's internal. To the external, it would feel great when someone called you a fat cow to turn around and say, "Well, at least I'm not stupid like you are." Well, at least it would feel good for a few minutes, but then next time you'll be the fat cow who's also a bitch. So I don't think it would be worth the effort. Snappy comebacks have a short half-life, and if they actually work, you know what? You just became what you hate. You just hurt someone else's feelings. Now you are no better than they are. Now you are the mean monkey. Sure, they started it. But you didn't need to finish it.no bully zone

If you really want to stop the rumors, there's only one thing you can do, but it's hard, so only you can decide if you have the energy to do it. The antidote to rumor is fact. The only way to kill a rumor is to expose it to the facts. You have to teach people that the stereotypes are wrong. But teaching people the difference between type 1 and type 2, AND the fact the type 2 isn't "caused" by being fat in the first place, is a tall order. One adult diabetics have been struggling with since before you were born. So I wouldn't blame you one bit for choosing not to join our losing fight.

But if you did join the education crusade, how would you go about it? I don't know. You could try educating one person at a time, but that's slow work. Maybe you could put up some hand-made "Did you know?" posters in the halls at school. Maybe you could arrange to have your doc come and give a talk at a school assembly. Maybe a local business would print some buttons that say, "Skinny people get diabetes, too " or "Don't be dumb about diabetes, ask me for the facts." Maybe you could get the school board to change all the outside lights on their buildings to blue for World Diabetes Day, and then when people ask why the school has the blues you can tell them it's because the other students gave you the blues. Then tell them why.

That's a lot of work that might not change a damn thing. But you know what, Taylor? Maybe your voice will be the one that will make the difference. Maybe, being young, you're in a position to change the attitudes of the next generation of sugar-normals towards us.

Maybe today's so-called "fat cow" will be tomorrow's heroine.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.

 
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This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.