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“It was called hunger when we were young”: Joan Bakewell sparks outrage with comments on 'narcissistic' anorexia

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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Broadcaster Joan Bakewell sparked outrage yesterday with a series of comments about eating disorders.

The 82-year-old Labour peer said anorexia was "called hunger when we were young. You sat and ate until your plate was clean." She also described eating disorders as stemming from "narcissism" and "overindulgence".

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Bakewell said, "I am alarmed by anorexia among young people, which arises presumably because they are preoccupied with being beautiful and healthy and thin.

"No one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food. They do not have anorexia in the camps in Syria. I think it's possible anorexia could be about narcissism."

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Bakewell is chair of the judging panel for the Wellcome Book Prize, the UK's leading prize for medical, health and illness books.

She continued, "To be unhappy because you are the wrong weight is a sign of the overindulgence of our society, over-introspection, narcissism, really."

Her comments caused a huge reaction on Twitter, with users taking to the social media site to slam Bakewell's lack of understanding of eating disorders.

Representatives from anorexia charities were also quick to criticise Bakewell's comments, with Jane Smith, chief executive of the charity Anorexia and Bulimia Care, describing them as “uninformed".

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Smith said, "Although I welcome informed debate on this subject, I am disappointed that people still feel able to suggest a sweeping generalization, without fact, which perpetuates the misconceptions about eating disorders, thereby limiting the understanding for those struggling."

The number of teenagers with eating disorders being admitted to hospital almost doubling in the last three years.

Kate Nightingale, head of communications at mental health charity Time to Change, voiced her concern to The Daily Telegraph.

She said, “The stigma and misunderstanding surrounding these issues only makes life harder for people going through them - so what we need is increased understanding and support.”

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Bakewell herself initially took to Twitter to say, "I've stirred a public debate about anorexia... Good."

However, she soon apologised for the comments and said last night that she was "deeply sorry".