This content originally appeared on Beyond Type 1. Republished with permission.
By Alexi Melvin
If you’ve browsed Netflix in the last couple of weeks – as I’m sure the majority of us have throughout shelter in place – you may have stumbled on a few representations of type 1 diabetes in major Netflix shows.
The double-whammy of type 1 diabetes (T1D) related content is thanks to Netflix having released both “The Baby-Sitters Club” and “Say I Do” only two days apart from each other.
Usually, when we know diabetes has been represented in a show or movie, the collective “oh no, what did they say about it this time?” sinks in. However, these shows did a pretty decent job. In “Say I Do,” a wedding reality show, the groom with T1D was able to tell his own diabetes story in a way we’ve not often seen done. It was refreshing. In “The Baby-Sitters Club,” the beloved character with diabetes from the book series has an entire episode dedicated to her experience. It’s not a perfect representation, but it is more screen-time for diabetes than we normally see.
The Baby-Sitters Club
This Netflix reboot – released on July 3rd – of the beloved book series, turned TV series, turned 1995 film of the same name is a more modern take, but for the most part stays true to the original characters. One of these familiar characters is Stacey, a new member of the BSC and New York City transplant.
In episode 3 of the season, “The Truth About Stacey,” Stacey’s “secret” is finally revealed. She has type 1 diabetes.
Not to go too deep into spoilers, but let’s just say that Stacey (and her mother, in part) has felt a lot of shame in the past about her T1D and is hesitant to reveal it to her new group of friends. Her competency and safety as a babysitter is questioned as a result of the revelation, but luckily it’s not a spoiler to say this matter is resolved, since The Baby-Sitters Club wouldn’t be what it is without Stacey.
The show gets a few things wrong but don’t worry – it all wraps up with a bedazzled insulin pump in full view.
Say I Do
Released on July 1st, “Say I Do” has already made a name for itself as a super sweet guilty pleasure for reality show enthusiasts. Episode 1 introduces us to Marcus LaCour and his wife, Tiffany, whose first wedding years prior was an epic disaster. Now, they’re given a chance at doing it over again, having the real wedding they always hoped for.
Marcus is immediately transparent with the show’s three hosts that he has type 1 diabetes, having been diagnosed at age 15. During a conversation about food for the wedding’s reception, Marcus goes into detail about his diagnosis and T1D management today. He shares details like temporarily losing his sight on the way to the hospital, how losing his health insurance at one point led to tough decisions for the family, and that he maintains lower-carbohydrate eating habits that help him manage his blood sugar levels.
What Was Done Well
The overarching theme within Stacey’s T1D struggles in The Baby-Sitters Club is that she has found a new support system that accepts her for everything that she is – so, why shouldn’t she accept herself too? To see a young girl dealing with a new diagnosis have such a strong team of friends that truly have her back is refreshing, and something that every person impacted by diabetes deserves.
Growing up in the 90s, the 1995 The Baby-Sitters Club film was a favorite of mine. After I was diagnosed with T1D at age 14, one of the very first things that flashed through my head was this movie’s scene when Stacey fell down in the middle of a hike because she was low. It was the only portrayal of someone having type 1 diabetes that I was even remotely familiar with.
The ’95 film version of BSC left us with way more questions than answers when it comes to what type 1 diabetes is. We knew that Stacey had something called “diabetes.” We know that her mother was very insistent that she “eat something” before her hike. And we knew that she fell down because she didn’t eat. But any further detail about insulin injections, blood sugar management, differentiation between the types of diabetes and what causes type 1 diabetes was entirely lacking.
In the Netflix reboot of BSC, we get a clearer picture of what T1D looks like. The story has been modernized, so we get an updated look at how T1D is managed with the insulin pump hooked to the front of Stacey’s waistband. We also see Stacey dive much deeper into the inner turmoil that goes along with a T1D diagnosis. Type 1 diabetes is much more visible here than we’ve seen it before in past film and TV attempts.
In “Say I Do,” Marcus takes enormous care to share his story, and the producers took equal care in spending time on his story. From Marcus, we learn what a type 1 diagnosis can mean for a family, and what it means to him personally.
Is There Still Room for Improvement?
Absolutely. There needs to be even more transparency and accuracy within our portrayals of diabetes in pop culture. There are unclear moments in episode 3 of The Baby-Sitters Club, such as Stacey’s “episode,” which appeared to be a seizure from a severe hypoglycemic event. However, it was also presented as possibly coinciding with her diabetes diagnosis, which would have meant high blood sugar and possibly diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), as opposed to a low.
The lens with which we are meant to view a type 1 diabetes diagnosis could also have been a little less dark. I question whether Stacey’s T1D storyline perpetuates the idea that having type 1 is means for bullying or shame. Nevertheless, it ultimately morphs into a more optimistic tone.
When it comes to reality television like “Say I Do,” we need more Marcus LaCours! And we need more show showrunners and producers who take care with telling these stories well. When we think about documentary style TV, not a lot of examples come to mind of people we’ve seen that live with T1D. If they do, not a lot of time is spent on clarity around what diabetes is and means for the person living with it.
The more we all choose to use our platforms to educate others about type 1 diabetes, like Marcus did in “Say I Do”, the more stories will emerge, and the more our experience of diabetes will be normalized, better understood, and seen as just one part of a complex person or character, not just a plot device or the butt of a joke.