There was a time when actress Halle Berry was the talk of the Diabetes Community. In fact, over the years she's been at the center of controversy on the differing types of diabetes and whether any of them can actually be reversed or not. The actress who's been in leading roles ranging from Catwoman to Marvel movies and many more, also happens to be one of the most controversial famous-person PWDs (people with diabetes) in the public space.
She created what many referred to as the whole "Halle Barry Diabetes Confusion Ruckus" that still rubs many of us the wrong way more than a decade after it first gained steam in 2007. Talking about her health at the time, the actress pointed out how she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 22 and immediately adopted a keto-style diet, and in doing so she managed to "cure" herself of T1D and magically weaned herself off insulin thanks to that healthier eating style.
Our Diabetes Community lit up and many within the medical community began discussing whether the actress actually knew which type of diabetes she had. Some speculated she was confused, others noted she may have been misdiagnosed with T1D when actually she lived with type 2 diabetes. Campaigns materialized to change the name of diabetes to avoid future confusion, while even some dipped their toes into online advocacy for the first time as a result.
Eventually, that firestorm of frustration faded. But feathers got ruffled again in 2013 when Halle Berry gave birth to her second child at age 46 and, as a result of that later-in-life pregnancy, it sparked a whole discussion about whether PWDs at that age should even have children. It created a whole new controversy, with many advocates and health experts dispelling the myths — that yes, you can have children when you have diabetes, that a pregnancy in your 40s is not taboo, and that diabetes management is important but certainly doesn't prevent anyone from taking care of themselves and having a healthy, happy pregnancy at that stage in life.
Enter head-shakes here, again.
Now in 2020, Halle Berry's health and diabetes statements are once again in the news. In April 2020, Halle Berry launched an early version of a new wellness app called Re-Spin, aimed at creating a community online for people to share stories on weight loss and being healthy. Of course, this brings up fresh comments about her past experience with T1D, reversing it and no longer needing insulin.
As if we hadn't had enough of Halle Berry's diabetes comments before, now it's gotten a fresh... it's the issue with nine lives, a bit ironic given her past role as Catwoman.
Halle Berry as a Diabetes Spokesperson?
Her name has popped up many times through the years, especially when the topic of stars and celebrities with diabetes is brought up. In fact, I remember one local event-planning meeting where someone suggested Halle Berry as an event guest and speaker. At the time, I LOL'd (Iaughed out loud) and quipped: "Only if we can throw tomatoes at her on stage!"
My comment was met with blank stares and eyebrows raised in confusion.
"... Because she's such a terrible spokesperson to ever be representing diabetes," I added for context, expecting that to be enough.
It wasn't. My fellow event-planners didn't seem to know about the whole Halle Berry D-Confusion, and so I took a moment to educate them on it.
That quickly led back to, "Still, she has diabetes, and that star power would bring in so many people!"
I shook my head, knowing that we were only joking around anyhow because the likelihood of us hooking in Halle Berry is pretty darn low. But this brought up an interesting topic: Where's the line between netting a spokesperson with star-power, versus working with someone who may be viewed negatively as far as representing a particular cause? This goes back to the Paula Deen controversy, when so many were shocked that this "Queen of Butter-Soaked Southern Cooking" would suddenly be held up as a role model for people with diabetes.
Halle Berry's case is perhaps even more complicated in the sense that her connection with diabetes only seems to confound the public's confusion about diabetes types -- certainly not in the interest of the folks who've argued for new names for diabetes in the past.
Personally, I would hope no one would ever consider Halle to be a great spokesperson for a diabetes cause. Yet, that hasn't stopped her from doing just that — raising diabetes awareness, particularly among African-Americans who are at higher risk of developing type 2. In fact, in 2004, she was tagged as the first ambassador for the National Diabetes Education — Diabetes Aware Campaign, with support from the Entertainment Industry Foundation and Novo Nordisk.
So, does that mean she's a worthy celeb to feature as a national face of diabetes?
IMHO, no. I don't think she's suited for that role. If Halle is completely off insulin, she does not now nor ever had type 1, no matter what she claims. If in fact she weaned herself off insulin as she claims, then it's most likely that she was misdiagnosed and should have been told she has type 2. Then, she could have explained this and helped the world at large to understand the differences.
But instead, she insisted on her initial claim that she "cured herself" of type 1. Even though our own D-Community has largely worked around her remarks and her latest news has brought the issue of healthy pregnancies with diabetes to the media's attention, Halle's comments have caused irreparable harm to PWDs who now must deal with comments from the general public like, "Halle Berry stopped taking insulin, so you can, too!"
Sure, she's not the only one and won't be the last to cause confusion like this. But others aren't touting themselves as "celeb spokespeople" like she is. Not someone I'd want to be affiliated with, as far as diabetes advocacy is concerned.
Creating a stir within the Diabetes Community
Some may remember that the original Halle Berry controversy kicked one longtime type 1 and fellow blogger into action, as our friend Kelly Kunik started her Diabetesaliciousness blog as a result of all this. Living in New Jersey and hailing from a family full of T1D, Kelly has said it was the Halle Berry situation that first lit a fire for her to get involved in advocacy.
"For a long time I heard whispers of something called 'online journaling,' but I didn’t pay attention to it," Kelly told DiabetesMine previously. "Then Halle Berry weened herself off insulin, Perez Hilton wrote about it, I got mad, and Diabetesaliciousness was born. Then I went a step further and researched all sorts of things, picked up the phone and called Halle's Publicist in the NY and LA offices. And she called me back! That experience really lit the spark re: diabetes advocacy!"
When asking Kelly about the whole topic of Halle Berry being a spokesperson for our community, it's a strong negative.
"I don't appreciate or like that she called diabetes 'a little disease,'" Kelly said. "It's not a little disease. It's complicated, complex and incredibly misunderstood by the public. And those of us living with diabetes don't think it's a little disease -- neither do our families. Diabetes is all-encompassing. And by calling it a little disease, she does a huge disservice to the millions living with type 1, type 1.5 (LADA), and type 2."
When asked if Halle could or should ever be a spokesperson for diabetes, Kelly responded with "NOT A GOOD IDEA" (yes, in all caps).
"She's not a good representation of people living with diabetes, nor do I believe she's a positive role model. And her attitude toward diabetes is not one that I want others to channel or replicate," Kelly adds.
Have to agree with you here, Kelly. No matter what kind of star power or celeb fame she could bring a D-Event, I'd be hard-pressed to be able to stomach having her as a spokesperson.
I wish Halle Berry well in her D-Management and acting career and family life, but I'd just assume not have her representing our community and causing more confusion — unless of course she'd be willing to "clear the air" with a reality check on this disease and a little myth-busting. In that case, I would most definitely hold back the tomatoes.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mike Hoskins is Managing Editor of DiabetesMine. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age five in 1984, and his mom was also diagnosed with T1D at the same young age. He wrote for various daily, weekly and specialty publications before joining DiabetesMine. Mike lives in Southeast Michigan with his wife Suzi and their black lab, Riley.