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 saying 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, describing them as “inaccurate and unhelpful”.
Unveiling the shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize, Baroness Bakewell, who is chairing the judging panel, said she was “completely surprised” by the reaction to the interview but refused to be drawn on whether she still held the same views.
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.”
The shortlist for the £30,000 Wellcome award includes the heartbreaking account of the aftermath of a car accident, by author Cathy Rentzenbrink, who grew up in Yorkshire.
Her book, The Last Act Of Love, describes the agonising decision to turn off the support system keeping alive her younger brother Matty, who at 16 was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver near the family’s pub in Snaith.
Also on the shortlist is Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, in which describes her own chaotic, alcohol-fuelled lifestyle in London before returning to a remote Orkney island to help beat her addiction.
It’s All In Your Head, by neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan, explores the world of psychosomatic illness, while Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes traces the evolving definition of autism.
The two shortlisted works of fiction include Alex Pheby’s Playthings, an original take on the memoirs of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose autobiographical account of mental illness influenced psychoanalysis.
Meanwhile, Signs For Lost Children, by Sarah Moss - the sequel to her previously-shortlisted novel Bodies Of Light - follows newly married couple Tom and Ally in Victorian England as they are separated for six months and change in each other’s absence.
Baroness Bakewell said: “All the judges were engrossed by the range of books we had to consider. We each learned important things from the imaginative and inspiring way writers have addressed their subjects.
“It has been an exhilarating journey. The shortlist reflects what has moved and inspired us most about books that deal with intimate and often complex matters of the human body and human experience.
“Each one has found its way not just on to the shortlist, but into our hearts.”
The winner of the Wellcome Book Prize will be announced on April 25.