Joan Bakewell 'distressed to cause pain' with anorexia 'narcissism' remarks


Labour peer Joan Bakewell has admitted causing "enormous upset" after she claimed a rise in eating disorders among young people was a sign of "narcissism".

The 82-year-old broadcaster said her "off-the-cuff" comments in a newspaper interview were "not thought through" and she had not expected them to be published.

She faced criticism after telling the Sunday Times that no-one in Syrian refugee camps had anorexia and suggesting the condition was a sign of the "over-indulgence of our society".

The eating disorder charity Beat said it was "alarmed" by her remarks to the newspaper, describing them as "inaccurate and unhelpful".

Unveiling the shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize, Baroness Bakewell said she was "completely surprised" by the reaction to the interview but refused to be drawn on whether she still held the same views.

She told the Press Association: "I was enormously surprised because I thought I was having an off-the-record conversation with a journalist so my off-the-cuff remarks were very casual and not thought through.

"If I'd been asked to make a public statement or write an article, of course I would have found out a great deal more.

"People were angry at what was reported.

"I'm very sorry they were distressed."

Baroness Bakewell, who is chairing the judging panel of the Wellcome Book Prize, also read a statement in which she said she was distressed at the "pain" she had caused.

"Although anorexia is not a condition covered by any books on submission, I naively participated in a speculative conversation expressing off-the-cuff remarks without reference to evidence and current thinking," she said.

"Now that has caused enormous upset and I'm deeply distressed that should have caused so much pain."

Baroness Bakewell had previously apologised on Twitter after facing a wave of criticism for her comments to the Sunday Times.

She told the newspaper: "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.

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

Beat's chief executive, Andrew Radford, said: "Comments suggesting rising rates of anorexia among teenagers are the result of narcissism or vanity are inaccurate and unhelpful.

"While eating disorders are complex and there is no single cause, there is a growing consensus among professionals in the NHS and researchers worldwide that eating disorders are likely to be caused by a genetic predisposition, triggered by a traumatic event or experience.

"Dismissing anorexia or other eating disorders as arising from personal vanity is not only incorrect, it also adds to the stigma and misunderstanding already commonly experienced by those affected and their families."

The Wellcome Book Prize rewards the best book, fiction or non-fiction, linked to medicine, health or illness.

The six shortlisted titles are The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, Signs For Lost Children by Sarah Moss, It's All In Your Head by Suzanne O'Sullivan, Playthings by Alex Pheby, The Last Act Of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink and Neurotribes by Steve Silberman.

The winner will be announced on April 25.