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Why Sarah Hyland Is a Voice We Need in the Chronic Illness Community

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Paige Wyant, The Mighty’s Associate Chronic Illness Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

Over the past few months, Sarah Hyland has been the subject of rumors and judgments regarding her physical appearance – something many of us with chronic illness may unfortunately be familiar with.

The “Modern Family” star has kidney dysplasia and underwent a kidney transplant in 2012. After people began criticizing changes in her body earlier this year, she responded on Twitter that she hasn’t had “the greatest year” and that it’s brought “a lot of changes and with that, physical changes.”

Hyland revealed how difficult it had been to watch her body change due to illness and medication. She explained that she had lost a lot of muscle mass in her body while on bed rest and had been taking prednisone, a corticosteroid used for treating inflammation in the body, which caused her face to look “swollen.”

Just last week, Hyland again took to Twitter to call out Life & Style for reporting that her facial changes were the result of plastic surgery rather than health issues.

She then tweeting a note, saying she “had the worst medical year” of her life, and emphasized the fact that her face has changed because of “LIFE SAVING medication.”

Following her tweets, Life & Style altered the headline, but Hyland was still not happy, suggesting they take down the article altogether. She continued to fire off several more tweets and videos in which she admittedly got “a tad salty.”

And I am so glad she did.

As someone who has taken prednisone and immunosuppressants long-term for chronic health issues, I can totally relate. I know how frustrating it can be to not only watch your body change due to reasons out of your control, but to have to deal with the questions, stares and accusations that too often follow.

I wish I could say I base my identity solely on who I am as a person, but the reality is that sudden changes in my appearance due to illness or medication can really shake me to the core and damage my sense of self. My confidence drops, and it is frightening to look into a mirror and not recognize the person looking back.

These bodily changes alone are enough to make me feel vulnerable and off-center, but when other people make insensitive comments or judgments, I feel even more isolated and misunderstood. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and hold on to the hope that one day, I will feel at home in my body again.

That’s why I am so thankful to Sarah Hyland for opening up about this issue and for being such a positive example of strength, confidence and acceptance as she battles with her health. In one of her tweets from May, she writes:

Since I’m here…you may wonder. Am I bothered by my appearance right now? Well it’s never fun to look in the mirror and see your hard work at the gym fade away or have your legs be the size of one’s arms. But I know that when I get clearance I will be able to get back to the STRONG, lean and fabulous self I know I can be. You all will probably have something to say about that as well but it won’t affect me. I don’t mind when you say that I look pregnant. Or fat. Because I know that my face is swollen from medication that is saving my life. For those on prednisone I know what you’re going through and I commend you sticking git out as I have.

Hyland’s attitude gives me hope. When my face and stomach swell due to prednisone, it can be hard to focus on the ways the medication is helping me rather than the side effects it has caused. But to see Sarah Hyland, an actress whose job it is to be in front of the camera, stand proud and unashamed of her battle scars and hold on to the “strong and fabulous” person she knows she is, it gives me – and many others in the chronic illness community – courage to do the same.

I applaud her for getting angry and speaking out against those who sling around hurtful and untrue accusations. Anger can certainly be a big part of life with chronic illness, especially when it comes to bodily changes. Seeing Hyland get upset is hugely validating and reminds us there are others who understand why it’s so infuriating to be judged for something that’s not in your control.

Even if publicly telling critics to “FUCK OFF” isn’t everyone’s style (I’m certainly not that bold), I respect Hyland for saying loudly and clearly what many of us may be thinking. After all, her “salty” response to Life & Style ultimately got the article changed, shed a light on the frustrating reality of chronic illness, and reminded those of us going through health and body image issues that we’re not alone.

It is not always easy to be honest and open about the ways illness and medication can change your body, and it is not always easy to confront those who judge you or shame you for it. Personally, being criticized makes me want to crawl into a hole and never come back out. So I am extremely thankful to Hyland for using her platform as a celebrity to shed light on an issue that so many of us may be privately dealing with.

I am glad she has been honest in explaining how illness and medication have changed her body – not plastic surgery, as Life & Style falsely reported.

But even though her reason for the changes is medical and out of her control, this doesn’t mean we have any right to judge those whose reasons aren’t necessarily “medical.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re sick or not – no one should be making judgments or speculating about the “reasons” behind a person’s change in appearance.

Hyland said it perfectly after Life & Style switched their attention to speculating about Taylor Swift having plastic surgery. Hyland tweeted yesterday: “Let’s empower women instead of judging their looks. There’s more to us than that.”

Thank you, Sarah Hyland, for being an honest voice for our community and for showing us what it looks like to fight the chronic battle with strength and hope.


Originally published: November 7, 2017
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