Labelling anorexia as narcissism is dangerous for sufferers

Joan Bakewell caused outrage with her comments

In an interview with The Sunday times yesterday, Joan Bakewell – a journalist and author, said that she believed anorexia to be a product of ‘narcissism’ and ‘self-regard’.

I am fortunate enough to have never had to battle with anorexia, however I have had an eating disorder and one that, for a large portion of time, consumed my entire life. And this was most certainly nothing to do with an admiration of my own physical appearance.

Mrs Bakewell said: “I am alarmed by anorexia among young people, which arises presumably because they are preoccupied with being beautiful and healthy and thin.” The only reason that I can think that someone would say this is because they believe that eating disorders are just a blanket phrase that people use for really wanting to be skinny.

Yes, some people may begin by simply wanting to be pretty and slim, but when the term ‘disorder’ comes into play, being thin is no longer just part of being pretty, but it is an ever escaping goal that you find yourself unable to reach no matter what. You don’t want to be thin so you can look good in a bikini in the summer, in fact, you probably wouldn’t dare wear a bikini in front of people because your body is no longer your own. You don’t see yourself as being healthy and thin, and It has been taken over by a mental illness that you have no idea how to combat. For somebody to say that this is simply down to narcissism is way off base, and possibly very damaging for someone currently battling anorexia, or an eating disorder of any kind.

The main problem with branding it as narcissism is that this will make it harder for people battling the illness to come forward, because now they have the discomfort of believing that they have made themselves ill simply because they wanted to look nice. Anorexia is a near inescapable mind frame that is filled with unhealthy thoughts and indescribable loneliness. Its understandable that somebody who has had no experience of this wouldn’t know much about it, but to pass comment that almost sounds like a judgement of people with anorexia is just plain wrong.

In the same interview, Mrs Bakewell said: “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 that anorexia could be about narcissism.”

How can you justify comparing a person with a mental illness which causes them to restrict their food consumption to the point of starvation, to people who are starving because they are in an awful economic situation which means that they often have to go without food? You don’t see people in Syrian camps with anorexia because they are simply trying to survive. They are not battling with body image issues, they are battling for their next meal. I don’t think that there is any reasonable way that a person can compare these two scenarios.

Joan Bakewell’s comments were misguided and damaging to her reputation, but this article is not a piece built intending to slate her any more than I’m sure a lot of people already have. It was written so that people out there who are dealing with this illness know that it is not happening to them because they love their own appearance, or are obsessed with being pretty.