This week Joan Bakewell made a sweeping statement that anorexia was a result of society becoming more narcissistic; she later apologised for the distress caused by her ‘reported views’ and of course has been widely criticised; but I’m still left feeling quite angry and frustrated that this kind of information is still finding it’s way into the world. Of course people are entitled to their own views and opinions, but surely you have to be more careful if you’re in a position of power/influence.
Andrew Radford, chief executive of Beat explained the problem with these kind of comments perfectly:
“Eating disorders are something a lot of people have misunderstandings about and they make throw-away comments as if it’s something you choose to have. This sort of comment is not helpful.”
The problem with comments, such as those made by Baroness Bakewell, is that they have the power to reinforce the negative stereotypes that surround eating disorders, as well as other mental health problems. They suggest that these illnesses are the ‘fault’ of the individual rather, creating a bit of a blame culture that really doesn’t aid in recovery. I’ve seen mental health issues related to physical health issues in this way often enough; being told that if I had a broken leg, it would be ok to get it treated… I wouldn’t be expected to just keep running on it. In this way, the mental illness is just that, an illness that people deserve support and help to overcome or manage to live alongside.
For many years, my feelings of guilt and shame surrounding my eating problems completely paralysed me. I didn’t want people to know what was going on because I was embarrassed and felt that on some level, I wasn’t even ‘good enough’ at being unwell to deserve any support or treatment… I was still too big, too much but also never enough. Guilt and shame surrounding eating disorders is unfortunately a very common issue amongst sufferers. A driving factor of an eating disorder is secrecy… the illness doesn’t want anyone else involved, it’s easier to maintain what’s happening if that person isolates themselves and retreats from the world. And the feelings of shame, blame and guilt aren’t restricted to the sufferer alone, they can be experienced by carers, friends, family members and those around that individual. Perhaps society, rather than being solely responsible for the disorders, is in fact perpetuating the negative feelings around such illnesses. Ultimately… perhaps these unhelpful views and stereotypes can build on the idea that eating disorders should remain unseen, whereas really we should be talking about them more to help reduce the stigma and allow individuals the right environment to be able to feel empowered and seek the support they need to overcome these horrible illnesses.
Part of me feels sorry for Baroness Bakewell, whom I’m sure did not expect this reaction to what she probably thought was a fairly harmless comment. The trouble is, these types of comments represent a bigger problem within society of not tolerating others who have different struggles to those we have experienced. It can be hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes if you don’t have their lived experiences… but it’s not that hard to find within yourself a little bit of empathy. We’ve all had a time of our lives where we’ve had moments of hopelessness or feelings that perhaps there’s even something wrong with us. Perhaps we could draw on those feelings before we start making sweeping judgemental and unhelpful comments that really have little basis in facts.