“Eating disorder support” and “systemic racial inequity” are phrases that are not often used in the same sentence.
However, the two are inextricably connected. This is where Ary Maharaj has focused his work over the past year.
In 2018, Ary was contacted by Kelsey Johnston, program manager at Sheena’s Place. Based on community feedback, Kelsey had concluded there was a real need for BIPOC specific programming and wondered if Ary would be interested in facilitating a group for this population.
They started small with a one-time workshop in the summer of 2019 that explored how shadeism and racism relate to body image. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with attendees reporting that it was therapeutic and engaging. Many stated that it would be a fantastic space for BIPOC folks to give and receive support on an ongoing basis.
Ary believes that mental health has not historically been very welcoming to the BIPOC community. He says that while there are some great grassroots organizations and support for BIPOC mental health such as Healing in Colour , “we live in a state that was built on colonialism and by virtue of that our means of healing as a society were made to be white and the community is beginning to understand that it isn’t fair.” Ary believes that “everyone deserves access to support” and he is heartened by the efforts of folks of colour who are advocating. “It means that we are all going to be better for it. Supports that work for them will also work for others and institutions have to reflect to be able to do something about the inequities within.”
Because of the lack of BIPOC specific services and the rising instances of violence fueled by racism and racial injustice during the COVID-19 pandemic, such groups are needed now more than ever. But Ary says that none of this is new: “I want to honour all the facilitators and participants of the past who didn’t have the chance to participate in these groups for various types of reasons. It takes more than one idea or one person to advance these causes.” With a successful workshop under his belt, Ary’s confidence in facilitating these groups had grown, and he set out to create the BIPOC Support Group at Sheena’s Place. He paired up with Alexandra Hanania, another facilitator at Sheena’s Place, to achieve this.
“Given the group’s relative newness, I appreciated the facilitators’ willingness to adapt, offer insight (where appropriate), and implement our feedback into the program (e.g., creating a “comfort agreement,” running an art therapy session, following up on topics that were mentioned in previous sessions).” – BIPOC Support Group Participant