Photo by Susan Hessing Photography/Facebook
Miss Idaho, aka Sierra Anne Sandison, could certainly be posting pictures of crowns and jewels all over her Twitter page. But the beauty queen is choosing to show off another accessory — her insulin pump.
Sandison, a 20-year-old diabetic, was crowned Miss Idaho last Saturday and has talked openly about how she felt when she got diagnosed with type 1 adult-onset diabetes in 2012. She tweeted a picture of herself lying on her bed, wearing her Miss Idaho sash and crown, a Wonder Woman sweatshirt, and an insulin pump. She tagged the photo #showmeyourpump and encouraged friends and followers to share their own empowering pictures. The hashtag has been promoted by several diabetes organizations, including Diabetes UK, and is garnering dozens of tweets and photos in response, with new updates pouring in constantly.
"My world was flipped upside down by my diabetes diagnosis," Sandison wrote in her official Miss Idaho blog. “For a while, I pretended that I didn’t have diabetes, hoping it would go away. That led to crazy blood sugars, of course, and a very sick, grumpy and discouraged Sierra. … At Miss Idaho 2014, as most of you know, I made the decision to wear my pump on stage while competing. That decision took me two long years to make. When I first started competing [in pageants], I was using injections rather than a pump. I didn’t want people to see a weird-tubey-machine-thing attached to me all the time, and could not wrap my head around having a medical device on my body for the rest of my life.”
But there was something — well someone, actually — who helped Sandison change her mind: Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999, who competed in the pageant and won while wearing an insulin pump. Johnson writes and speaks about living with diabetes and authored a cookbook, “Nicole Johnson’s Diabetes Recipe Makeovers.” Once she learned about Johnson, that was all the inspiration Sandison needed to show off her insulin pump with pride.
Just as Johnson inspired her, Sandison hopes to inspire other young people not to be ashamed of their diabetes. On her blog, she shares a story about a young girl backstage at the Miss Idaho pageant who asked about the insulin pump. That girl happened to be McCall Salinas, Miss Idaho’s Outstanding Preteen. “[Throughout] the night, she stood backstage cheering me on,” Sandison writes of her new pal. “We bonded over diabetes and pageants, and by the end of the night, she told her mom she was ready to get a pump. It brought me to tears.”
Now, kids from around the world are following Sandison’s lead. Michelle Golladay, a mom in Poland, Ohio, shared a picture of her son sporting an OmniPod at the pool. Chris VanDruff of Athens, Pennsylvania, has twin sons with diabetes and posted a photo of one of his boys wearing an insulin pump while on his bike.
Sandison is just one of many women who have turned to social media in order to challenge ideas about beauty. Thanks to the Internet, people are able to connect with communities full of others dealing with the same disease they are and to speak openly about their health concerns or body image issues. Campaigns like Stop the Beauty Madness and 4th Trimester Bodies Project are among the many groups encouraging women to post pictures of themselves, celebrating all kinds of bodies. In particular, 4th Trimester Bodies celebrates the way that women look after giving birth and urges new moms not to compare themselves to celebrities who seem to slim down at record speed after having a baby.
Thanks to the accessibility of social media, more women have the opportunity to change perceptions about the way they look than ever before. Gone are the days when only a few magazines and newspapers controlled messages about women and decided who was and wasn’t beautiful. Now, women from all over the world can upload pictures online in a matter of seconds. Whether it’s postpartum mothers or women with insulin pumps, one thing is clear: The Web is a powerful tool for uniting and celebrating women of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.
As for Sandison, she will compete in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City on Sept. 14. But, even if she doesn’t bring home the title, she has already won.