'Wizards of Waverly Place' star turned nurse Jennifer Stone says her diabetes diagnosed ultimately helped her body image

Actress-turned-nurse Jennifer Stone talks diabetes and her dual careers with Yahoo Life. (Photo: Getty Images; Design by Quinn Lemmers)
Actress-turned-nurse Jennifer Stone talks diabetes and her dual careers with Yahoo Life. (Photo: Getty Images; Design by Quinn Lemmers)

Unapologetically is a Yahoo Life series in which people get the chance to share how they live their best life — out loud and in living color, without fear or regret — looking back at the past with a smile and embracing the future with excited anticipation.

If you were glued to Disney Channel between 2007 and 2012, there’s a good chance that you know Jennifer Stone as Harper, the smart BFF of Selena Gomez’s snarky wizard-to-be Alex on Wizards of Waverly Place. In real life, however, Stone has traded in magical schemes for the medical world, balancing a career in entertainment with one in the ER.

Stone started working as a registered nurse in early 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic made nursing a lot more challenging.

“It was a baptism by fire for sure,” she tells Yahoo Life. “I'd be lying to say it hasn't changed me as a person because how can it not? I think nursing in general, you see things that you would never normally see, but especially during a pandemic, a lot of us saw things that nobody was prepared for. It definitely affected my viewpoint of nursing, but it also was my only viewpoint of nursing because I didn't know anything else.”

Stone balances her job as an emergency nurse in Los Angeles with auditions and other creative pursuits, which included writing and starring in the acclaimed 2019 film The In-Between. Her reason for wanting to go into nursing is a personal one. In 2012, just as Wizards of Waverly Place ended, a then 20-year-old Stone was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She shifted gears and decided to pursue nursing over psychology, which was her original plan. Now, Stone, who works with Medtronic Diabetes to spread awareness about how their smart insulin pen, called the InPen, helps manage her diabetes, is focusing on balancing her busy dual careers.

“Self care with my diabetes diagnosis is so much about balance,” she notes. “I have to be very balanced about my sleep and my exercise and my diet and my stress, which with nursing is not always the easiest thing in the world."

Other math includes time management — Stone stays she regularly uses her breaks during her 12-hour nursing shifts to memorize lines for a forthcoming audition. But, she adds, nursing and acting aren’t totally divided from one another. In fact, the role she played in The In-Between was of a young woman also navigating a diabetes diagnosis.

“I say that like acting is for me and nursing is what I do for others — and not that I don't get anything out of it. It's just that acting is such a job about itself. It's what I love about it; it's about self discovery. But there's a lot of empathy involved, which is something that overlaps with nursing that I never expected there to be a connection.”

The ability to connect with people can be complicated, Stone says. Stone came into the entertainment industry just as social media was really taking off — and as a teenager, that meant that “every stranger in Kansas could tell me what they thought about the way that I looked.” This was also challenging, she points out, as she was struggling with symptoms of her then-undiagnosed diabetes. Ultimately, she says, focusing on her health took priority — and, surprisingly, helped her with her body image.

“I did struggle with body image and I still do sometimes to this day, but to be honest, I'm really thankful for the diabetes diagnosis because it forced me to get out of the aesthetic aspect of my body and get into the functionality and the health of my body,” she says. “In this business, especially when you're a kid transitioning to adult actor, it’s so easy to obsess over aesthetics and what you look like because everyone else obsesses about it, and it can prevent you from getting a job or not getting a job. Diabetes has forced me to focus on my health rather than my appearance and so, in a strange way, it saved me a little bit.”

Now, Stone uses social media to speak out on issues that are important to her. She recently posted a photo of herself in a shirt that read “No Country For Old Men,” along with a caption about the fall of Roe v. Wade that read, “No choice regarding autonomy of a woman’s body should be made by a man who doesn’t have one.” She notes that it’s important for her to use her platform in this way, so that other women “feel like they have a voice.”

She also uses social media to connect with others who are also managing diabetes.

“When I was first diagnosed, I felt so alone, and I had no friends that had to deal with this. Then I found the diabetes community and they are so open and honest and just willing to be so helpful,” she says of the connections she’s made online. “I love being able to share the devices and the tools and the tricks and the things that work for me.”

For Stone, living life unapologetically means truly knowing herself.

“I know what drives me and I know what I love to do, and I know what I'm capable of,” she explains. “I mean, if I can survive my body fighting itself on a daily basis, I can survive anything. If I can survive a pandemic — and that's true of anybody, right? — I can survive anything. We've all had our things that we've overcome. So I live unapologetically because I know what I wake up in the morning for, and I know what I'm capable of.”

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