Photo: Via @sierra_anne_nicole.
Beauty pageants aren’t an obvious example of a self-esteem-building event. While the interview and talent portions may seek to capture contestants’ individual personalities, the swimsuit competition is one of the last places you’d expect women — especially girls — to turn for affirmation.
The Miss Idaho 2014 competition, held Saturday in Nampa, ID, was a little different. The fact that 20-year-old contestant Sierra Sandison chose to walk the stage wearing a bedazzled, black bikini was nothing unusual. But, attached to that bikini, in full view, was Sandison’s insulin pump: a Miss Universe Organization first. “When I first started competing, I was using injections rather than a pump,” Sandison shares on her blog. “I didn’t want people to see a weird tubey-machine-thing attached to me all the time.” When she learned that Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson wore a pump — although not visibly — when she competed, Sandison was inspired to take the stage with her own pump proudly on display.
Sandison was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2012, which she says turned her life “upside down.” Though Type 1 can develop at any age, it’s often called “juvenile” diabetes because it’s common in children and teens. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas either produces no insulin or produces too little for the body to effectively convert glucose into energy. Only 5% of diabetics have Type 1; the majority have Type 2, in which the body’s resistance to insulin means that the pancreas’ natural production of it is inadequate to maintain healthy levels of blood glucose.
As for Sandison, she won the title of Miss Idaho and will go on to compete in Miss USA. She also became a role model for thousands of diabetics and other chronic-illness sufferers when she posted a photo of her bikini-and-insulin-pump ensemble to Facebook on Monday. “I would never have dreamt of posting a swimsuit picture on social media, but diabetics from all over the country have been asking to see me and my insulin pump on the #MissIdaho2014 stage,” she wrote. “Honestly, it is terrifying walking out on stage in a swimsuit, let alone attached to a medical device.”
In her post, Sandison encouraged other diabetics to share their own insulin-pump pics with the hashtag #showmeyourpump. Along with the 2,700 shares and 4,600 likes her photo has already received on Facebook, she’s been inundated with grateful messages and photos of other diabetics sporting their devices. “Thank you from the bottom of a Type 1 mom's heart for your courage,” one mother wrote to Sandison. “Wish I could personally thank @sierra_anne93 for reminding me to have confidence,” another commenter tweeted. “To me, she’s a hero and an inspiration.”