I was sitting in my diabetes doctor’s office several months ago when I heard a parent out in the hall talking about how her 5-year-old daughter was so excited about the new Pixar movie, “Turning Red.” I was bored, and curious, so I pulled out my phone and looked up the teaser trailer. I could not believe what I saw at the 34-second mark — a diabetes infusion site on one of the characters.
At its core, the movie is a coming-of-age tale of a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian girl named Meilin Lee going through puberty. While the movie has been praised for tackling both uncomfortable topics and its conversations revolving around family dynamics, having diabetic representation in the movie takes the film to another level.
While this may seem like a tiny detail to some people, it created waves in the diabetes community. For both children and adults, this was an important example of representation on the big screen. The small nod to diabetes representation in the mainstream media was enough to garner traction on social media.
“I don’t know why when I see people in mainstream with diabetes gear on I immediately sob,” a Reddit user shared regarding the characters. “It’s like adult me says to 9-year-old newly diagnosed me ‘Look! You aren’t the only one!’ And I just think about all the little T1 babies who are so strong who will feel so validated seeing it.”
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 16 years old. An age where I was old enough to understand the severity of it, but also an age where I remember what life was like before my diagnosis. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune chronic condition where the pancreas produces little to no insulin, a hormone needed to control blood sugar levels. It can be diagnosed at any age.
Diabetes, as well as any other chronic illness, can seem lonely and daunting for those who are living with the conditions, and for their family and friends. Having not only one, but two characters in the film with diabetes helps take a step to normalize the condition. It gives individuals a chance to look at the screen and see someone who is going through the same thing they are.
The inclusion of the characters was intentional. Susan Fong, the technical supervisor of "Turning Red," was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes early in her childhood. Fong had shared the idea of including the characters with the rest of the staff and had a hands-on role in making sure the depiction of diabetes in the movie was accurate.
Since the movie takes place in 2002, the diabetes monitors on the characters are reflective of that year. So while many people thought the young girl was wearing a Dexcom G6, a continuous glucose monitor, she was actually wearing an insulin pump infusion site, as the Dexcom did not come out until 2006. During the trailer, a purple insulin pump can be seen hooked onto the pants of the child in the classroom.
Being a child with diabetes can be frustrating, but seeing it normalized by a large company is a step in the right direction. Representation matters in all forms, however, having representation in a children’s movie impacts the population who arguably needs it the most.