The Real Faces of RA
In the last several years I’ve noticed a huge increase in advertising for medications that treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Instead of getting excited about new treatment options, I’ve found myself getting annoyed and angry that none of them feature realistic images of people like me.
I understand that the disease has a huge range—from people with mild symptoms to those severely affected, like myself. But not one ad has a swollen joint, fatigued patient, or slight limp. Instead of appealing to me, I feel offended and excluded.
For example, one medication features a famous athlete as a spokesperson. That’s great that the medication worked for him and he can still compete in a highly-athletic sport. But what about the rest of us RA patients? Where do we fit in? Is the ad saying that if we can’t become top-athletes we should just stay home and moan in bed?
I’m over dramatizing, but the reason is that while ads for rheumatoid arthritis seek to be aspirational, they are leaving most of us behind in their fairy-tale depictions of the actual disease. Why can’t one of their characters have a swollen joint that is relieved by the medication? Or a limp that improves?
It doesn’t give me much hope for the medication if the people who are taking it already look healthy, happy and active. What can I get from taking this drug if I already don’t fit the image of youthful and athletic?
I have this same problem with a leading arthritis magazine. Part of the reason I’m dropping my subscription is because for a full year none of the people featured seemed to have any significant damage from the disease and other articles didn’t contribute any more knowledge to my understanding of RA.
Few people live with the extensive damage of RA that I’ve experienced. I know that I’m a rare case. But I also know many others struggle on the spectrum—these people have pain, joint damage, deformities, lethargy and many other symptoms. To me, the most powerful and inspiring examples celebrate people with RA who have managed to persevere and thrive despite the disease.
Don’t sweep us under the rug! Don’t disappear us behind a façade of smiling, healthy actors! Here’s an idea: tell the real stories. Show how we cope with the disease. How treatments can work. Show the real disease and the true damage it causes. But include the hope and the tenacity—how we fight for quality lives.
I feel angry when I’m ignored, when I feel my experience of RA is maligned by the glossy hopes of advertising. My husband overhears me shouting at the television like a crazy woman. “That lady hasn’t had RA a day in her life! She’s probably not even met anyone with RA!” While those ads may be beautiful, they insult the reality of RA and offend people like me.
Sometimes I wonder if those ads come from a place of fear. That the advertisers know the pain and struggle of RA, but are afraid to depict it and scare off their customers. I would argue that running from the fear, doesn’t make it go away. That no matter what, RA is a difficult disease and pretending it is not doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it may hurt to delay facing the reality rather than getting early treatment.
So let’s face our fears and turn a spotlight on the real RA. There’s plenty of stories to tell. Many people struggle with the real RA and live well despite the disease. How about we honor the real faces of RA?
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