The high-horse brigade can get stuffed. Joan Bakewell had a point

You can’t do an interview these days without someone trying to catch you out. This week it was the turn of Joan Bakewell, who — speaking with The Sunday Times — offered an opinion on anorexia. Speculating on the causes of the eating disorder, she said: ‘No one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food,’ before adding that it was a sign of ‘the overindulgence of our society’.

Poor Bakewell didn’t know what she was in for, clearly, but anyone else could anticipate the sound of the high-horse brigade mounting their saddles, ready to charge. Since the interview was released, Bakewell has been flooded with angry messages and ticked off by mental health organisations. Naughty Joan, indeed.

What’s ironic about all this is that Bakewell’s comments have a certain degree of validity. Though she has been largely interpreted as saying ‘Anorexia is narcissism’ — suggesting it is a result of individual vanity — what she actually proposed was that anorexia is a sign of a narcissistic society.

Such a hypothesis is not too far away from other, scientifically referenced ideas about anorexia. We know that it’s a complex disorder, with a variety of causes — one of which is media influence. This means things like exposure to Photoshopped images, thin celebrities across television and magazines, and ‘perfect’ friends on Facebook. All of these are endemic in a narcissistic society.

And, truthfully, she is right to question the cultural components of anorexia when — as she points out — it is less prevalent in poorer parts of the world.

But even if she was completely off the mark, so what? Bakewell was entirely entitled to voice her opinions.

Still, that doesn’t matter to the high-horse brigade. She joins a number of high-profile women who have found, in their later years, society to be more intolerant than ever of their opinions. Last August Chrissie Hynde was attacked after suggesting responsibility for her own rape, and let’s not forget the whole saga with Germaine Greer. It must come as somewhat of a surprise to these individuals, who played such a large role in promoting others’ intellectual freedom, to be suddenly vilified.

Responding to her critics, Bakewell said she was ‘full of regret’ and ‘sorry’, before adding she must head to bed, as she was too tired to deal with the rest of the criticism (which surely seems like the saddest thing of all — when an 82-year-old is hounded off Twitter). I wish she would do what Chrissie Hynde did back in August, and tell everyone to get stuffed — for it’s the intolerant who should feel apologetic. There’s only one lesson to be learnt from this debacle: society must learn to digest different opinions better, even if they’re on something as sensitive as anorexia.


  • Jankers

    All these things have become huge industries with self appointed captains employing thousands of minions. We can’t have the unappointed wading in with their unsanctioned opinions, that would devalue of the stock.

  • Ambientereal

    Well, but in societies where there is not enough food there is narcissism as well. It may be expressed in a variety of forms. For instance Bangladesh is a very poor country but even the very poor women paint their faces and try to look pretty.

  • Jane

    You know what? Go fuck yourselves. The only narcissists here are you. I’m not going to speak for all people who have this illness, but I will speak for myself. My anorexia developed through self hatred. At 11 years old, I was forcibly taken to hospital because I had starved myself to the extent that I was told that I wouldn’t live to see my 12th birthday. I had been dealing with depression since I was 9 years old, and had attempted suicide twice before my eating disorder developed. It was nothing to do with being overly obsessed with my appearance, and the media was the least of my worries. It was a form of self destruction. It’s been years, and even now as a legal adult I’ve still not fully recovered. People like you make it even more difficult. Don’t try to sound like you know about something that you’ve never experienced. I am not part of the ‘high horse brigade’, I am a survivor of an awful illness.