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People Empowered: Maxine

Maxine, anti-racism and mental health advocate
existing racism within the mental health sector

“The mental health of Black women and femmes is often disregarded, so I want to let people know that our mental health is valid, even to some extent more valid because of the extra layers of racism and sexism we face. I always say we need to work from the most marginalised upwards, not the most privileged downwards. In the space of mental health advocacy currently, it does really focus on the white, cisgendered, middle-class experience and obviously, that’s not all-encompassing. If we’re doing mental health advocacy, we need to focus on the most marginalised otherwise there will be gaps. We don’t live single issues lives; all our experiences and all of the lenses we have will help society move forward, but if we start from the viewpoint of only a couple of lenses, we’re not going to be able to help everyone.”

Maxine modelling rainbow shopper
Damaging effects Western Beauty has

“When we talk about Eurocentric standards, many people, especially white women, will often respond and say that there are times we all have things we don’t like about ourselves, which is so true - most people do have varying levels of self-esteem issues! But when it comes to how I look, I will never ever be able to fit into the ideal Eurocentric standard because I’m a dark-skinned Black femme. I have Afrocentric features; there is no way I’d ever be able to fit into that. When we’re talking about self-esteem, or having conversations about body confidence, a lot of the times there are cis, white women leading these conversations but forgetting that society still gives them privileges for conforming. No matter how much I try to conform to these standards, I’ll never look that way. It is really hard and there are days where I don’t like the way I look. When I was younger I really struggled with how dark I was, but as I’ve got older I’ve realised that the Eurocentric beauty standards don’t define me and, because I will never fit into them, there’s no point trying to base my worth off something that was never made for me. It’s a topic that has affected me so much that I recently explored it in my final A-Level art piece. I called it ‘The Reformation of Three Graces: Countering Hegemony’. I wanted to get across that people who look like me have always been used as a juxtaposition to white beauty and we’ve seen that throughout classical art. Because we consume art as a society, it does push narratives of Black women being ugly or undesirable. I wanted to counter that and have women of colour be at the centre of a beautiful painting.”

Maxine modelling rainbow hat
Responses to open letter?

“I’ve had no responses from the schools I’ve written to. It’s interesting because I think a lot of why I’ve been disregarded has to do with the fact that I am a Black femme. I’ve been in contact with other people who are doing similar work across the country and the people who are ending up in meetings with the government are all cisgendered white women. That’s not to disregard the work that all these women and organisations have done for so long, but because of this imbalance not everyone’s experiences will be seen.”

what would you like to see schools adding to their curriculums

“When I was doing my research, I found on a boys’ school website that they only had one lesson on consent in Year 10. It literally was a tick in a box to say it was there! But when I spoke to the boys and asked if they’d had these lessons, their response was: ‘I don’t know’; ‘I don’t remember’; ‘I’m not sure’. It scared me because if they’re having one lesson on consent that they can’t remember, we may as well not do it. Even though a lot of the blame does go on young boys, I do think as a society we have a responsibility to equip them and equip people to understand consent.”

kindness means empathy

“Empathy. Going into every situation with empathy is the best way kindness can be served. If people saw everyone as human regardless of who they are, the world would be a better place and the interactions we have with others would be more fruitful.”

Maxine modelling the black Be Kind Joggers
Being surrounded by people who see me.

“Being surrounded by people who see me. I’ve made so many amazing friends over the last couple of months and I’ve noticed so much difference being with people who see me, value me, love me. For a long time, I didn’t feel seen or loved, but now I know I’m surrounded by people who do genuinely love and care for me that makes me feel empowered.”

Eccentric, witty and compassionate

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