Diabeauty: A beauty contest that made me find the beauty within
I was completely shaken when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on my birthday in 2017. Frankly, I had no idea how my diabetes differed from the diabetes that my family inherits (i.e. type 2 diabetes) It was hard for me to accept it as I was a 20-something-adult with a thriving career and other future plans. And to my utter dismay I realized - life would pass me by, but my diabetes wasn't going anywhere (unless a cure is found. You know how this plays out)
During the first few months post my diagnosis, I struggled a lot to manage my T1D. I had more questions than answers. My frustration was at its peak and I was on the verge of depression.
We now have our peer support Buddy Project Helpline on the Blue Circle Diabetes app where you can seek help and support for diabetes and mental health.
The real problem however, was that I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. I had put on almost 10 kgs over just 7 months due to incorrect insulin dosing. Oddly, I had made peace with the fact that I will have to prick myself and take insulin for the rest of my life. But that rapid weight gain was one damn hard pill to swallow.
I couldn’t stand anymore comments on my appearance from my family, friends and colleagues - who had no idea of what type 1 diabetes actually is. This led me to post a video during one of our Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation campaigns on 'Dia'goals, where I spoke out about body shaming.
Around the same time, I heard of a known hospital in Pune, India hosting a Dia-beauty Contest on December 8, 2018. This contest was based on the theme “The Family and Diabetes” . The pageant purported to uplift the morale of people of all age groups living with diabetes and to transform them into confident individuals by the end of the journey. Initially, I was skeptical about participating in a pageant as I was absolutely clueless when it came to the glamorous world of fashion. Yet, I was open to explore new things. The format of this pageant looked inclusive. With a lot of persuasion (read nagging) from my sister and friends, I decided to give it a shot. Perhaps something curated for diabetics might actually help me dig myself out of the pit of body-image woes I had buried myself in? If not, why not have some fun, right?
With this newly found optimism, I launched myself into the contest - which was no less than the Miss India pageant for local diabetics. It began with two elimination rounds; the ramp-walk and introduction followed by the fitness and dance. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed and nailed those rounds, finding my way towards the finale. To up the fun quotient, I found that a few of my dia-buddies from our local city group were also selected. I must tell you guys, how hard I had to work for this venture. We were being groomed and evaluated during practice sessions for which I found myself frequently trekking halfway across town from Kothrud to Hadapsar (Pune) and back. Phew! But I did it anyway and ended up learning how to walk on the ramp, how to answer the questions in a pageant etc. I have always been the "flats and sport shoes" kind of a person; but this contest taught me how to walk in heels at least for 3 hours straight without losing the smile on my face. Perhaps pageants aren't a total washout after all?! Tottering in heels without looking like a newborn calf is a life skill! (Before you judge me, I dare you to try it!)
Anyway, finally, the day of finale arrived! It was a thrilling experience for most of us as we were participating in such an event for the very first time. Famous models - Dr Aditi Govitrikar and Lisa Ray were invited as celebrity judges along with a panel of various pageant holders and doctors. The organizers took a lot of effort in planning the entire event - right from choosing the venue, outfits, choreography and makeup. It was fun to be a part of and closely observe the glamorous world, even if it was just an evening.
After 2 rounds of ramp walk in different outfits, I was announced as one of the top 5 finalists from category 2(women from 18 upto 45). I was asked where I see myself in upcoming years in the Q&A round. I found myself sharing how I couldn’t believe to have regained my confidence after my diagnosis. All I want is to pay it forward for my T1 friends and instill the same confidence in them that they can achieve absolutely anything. My T1 friends were deeply touched by my answer and were certain that I would be the winner (oh, well)
It was a tough competition among all of us as everyone did a great job on the ramp. Even though I didn’t win the pageant, I oddly found my self confidence restored, which matters to me more than anything else. This contest helped me bolster my confidence and undoubtedly, made me assertive while expressing my opinions on large platform. One of the best things happened to me during this time was the friends I made during this journey. They belonged to different age groups and different upbringings. Yet, everyone had a unique story to take an inspiration from and affected me at a very deep level.
Okay, I'll admit I did have a teeny tiny bit of fun from all the glamour, but the entire journey with the Diabeauty contest was an eye opener for me on a macro level. I had different expectations set in my mind that this pageant might be able to give a voice for spreading awareness about diabetes and body image issues on larger platform.
Alas, it was just another beauty contest!
I was highly disappointed by how the contestants were categorised. The categories were merely based on the age and gender, NOT on the TYPE OF DIABETES. In my opinion, putting all of them in a single category is not fair at all; considering how bravely each one of them conquers the battles in every phase of their lives. E.g. a middle aged woman living with type 1 diabetes faces different problems than the women of her age living with type 2 diabetes or having history of gestational diabetes.
Also, as much as the arrangements of the event were lavish and grand, they saddened me at a deep level. The extravagance was comparable to a big fat Indian Wedding - totally unnecessary! Wouldn’t that expenditure have made more sense if it were spent on providing insulin and counseling for the ones in dire need? Or if the focus could be shifted from the glamour to the real issues and essence of being diabetic in an expensive, unsympathetic world?
An incident that made me regret my well-intentions of being on that platform, was the exact moment when a senior faculty member commented on my appearance. She suggested that I should visit their dietician to get a recipe of some detox smoothie which would get rid of the fat on my stomach when the finale was just a week away. It’s a pity for a doctor at her position who fails to understand that T1’s like me need to inject insulin 3 to 6 times a day causing fatty lumps and mid section obesity which WILL NOT MAGICALLY DISAPPEAR BY DRINKING DETOX SMOOTHIES.
Even though I had fun at the Diabeauty contest, I realized how shallow the enchanting world of fashion is in reality. I definitely don't see myself fit in.
To me, true Diabeauty means beauty with a purpose. It should help the participants to look within and rely on their inner beauty and strength in the face of being challenged with a chronic medical condition that needs 24/7 attention. Ultimately, it is self acceptance and self love which is the key towards one’s positive attitude and confidence. No amount of makeup and fashionable clothes can ever make one confident if that person is not at his/her physical or psychological best.
I am grateful to this contest for making me realize that I am a woman of substance. I will always speak my truth in every situation. I accept the way I am now and not ashamed of the scars on my body. I definitely don’t see myself fit in to such kind of beauty contests that fail to seek inner beauty of a person.
After all, it's always the compassion that touches lives over the piles of money. Because in the end, nobody is going to remember how you looked or what you wore; they will always remember how you made them feel! And that's how I feel coming back to my home and family at Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation!
The diagnosis with any chronic medical condition leaves a profound impact on one’s life. It’s heart-wrenching; one might see their entire life turning around. It’s difficult to stay positive during such trying times. However, that experience teaches you the best lessons which you cannot find anywhere else. I am grateful to such experiences that have helped me grow in ways that I could have ever imagined.