Tuesday, March 15, 2016

British broadcaster criticized for suggesting eating disorders are a sign of "narcissism"

The thing is, I think she had a point, albeit exceedingly clumsily put:
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.
Reported by The Guardian.

Years ago on a popular ladyblog, a poster was excoriated for saying basically the same thing: women who grow up poor have a different relationship to food than women who don't. Women who grow up without the west's preoccupation with thinness and attractiveness have a different relationship with their own bodies than women who do. Is this saying that poor women never develop eating disorders? Of course not. And Blakewell, I assume, means narcissism in the sense of Western individualism and entitlement. It smacks of a "children in the world are starving" dismissal of pain, but I think the outage over her comments is a little overblown. What's troubling isn't whether she's right or wrong or hurtful, it's that we shouldn't be having these discussions in the first place as the language of "identity" infiltrates everything.

Brendan O'Neill of Spike further explains the danger in the trend of using mental illness as identity:
The Bakewell-bashing speaks to two things. First to the extent to which illness is now bound up with personal identity. The reason no critical comments about anorexia can be tolerated is because this malaise – like bipolar disorder, anxiety and a host of other mental problems – has become an identity as much as a disorder. In an era when it’s fashionable to be ill, and fashionable to tell everyone how ill you are, anorexia has become something people boast of having, or having had, rather than something they simply treat and try to recover from. Witness the deluge of anorexia memoirs, anorexia newspaper columns, anorexia Tumblr blogs. The self-publicity that surrounds anorexia suggests sufferers are now almost celebrated for having a heightened sensitivity to the modern world, leading many to view the disease as a core part of their personality. So criticise anorexia, and you’re criticising some people’s identity, their sense of self, and that’s not allowed. 
Another disturbing trend is that the target of a lot of these social media storms is older women. I'm not saying that age automatically demands respect, but it's pretty easy to pit women against each other, and women are less likely to have a cabal of followers to come to their defense.