Body positivity and mental health

Conversation with Sharon Maxwell: on Body Positivity and Mental Health

Sharon Maxwell is an advocate for body positivity, mental health, and against the diet industry. 

The Chicagoan native was diagnosed with anorexia inversa, subtype purging two years ago and, ever since, she has battled against her nature and people’s prejudices. 

Anorexia inversa leads to an overweight and muscular body, often associated with behavioral disorders. The eating disorder is both psychiatric and metabolic, with researchers suggesting that the illness is a result of genetics as well as psychology. People categorized as “subtype purging” try inducing weight loss through behaviours such as self-induced vomiting and fasting -purging indeed. 

Maxwell remembers her suffering from anorexia inversa and never looking for treatment. The former teacher has been living with the mental health disease since she was seven but she didn’t know what it was. She looked and felt different, but no one around her talked about it. 

“My family did not believe in mental health illnesses,” Maxwell says, “it was a taboo topic and it was viewed like a sin.”

Maxwell was raised in a religious community, where psychologists were considered “god-less.” Instead of going to therapy, people affected by mental health issues were encouraged to pray, beg God, and be thankful. That was the formula to receive peace.

When she was 10, Maxwell was put on Weight Watchers and, since then, she has enrolled in 30 different types of diets. Maxwell started purging and practicing severe restriction in her eating habits, until she landed in the diet world. She started posting before and after pictures and enrolling in different programs. 

“I sought validation and praise simply by shrinking my body and telling people that I was healthy,” says Maxwell. 

But she wasn’t healthy. Behind the scenes, her body started collapsing. She had to get extensions for her bald spots on her head, she regularly passed out, and her skin and nails were cracking. 

The diet industry is business with blurry boundaries and ethics. In 2018 the industry reached a new high, growing 4% to $72 billion. Every product related to diets has been growing for the past few years, from meal replacements such as shakes -that now replace diet soft drinks. Intermittent fasting is becoming more and more popular and even weight loss surgeries are expected to rise. Diet culture sucked Maxwell in its promises and products. Until Maxwell decided it was time to reverse the damage and share the dangers of diet culture. 

By sharing her journey, the Chicagoan wants to challenge people’s fat-phobic views and to educate them on mental health. 

“I want to break the stigma for people who believe that mental health issues are a direct result of sin,” says Maxwell, “because it is just a way to manipulate people.”

Maxwell hasn’t induced purging in over a year, she doesn’t post before and after photos anymore, and she is not scared of showing her body. She is proud to be Sharon Maxwell. 

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