Kate Middleton ... our latest obesession with the royal female body.
Body snark is a modern sport half as old as Katy Perry and twice as dull as Zumba. The binge-and-purge cycle of shame now spins at such speed, I’m too dizzy to remember if it’s Angie’s Anorexia or Jessica’s Jugs pushing the world off its axis. That’s okay, though. You and I are not obliged to keep an inventory of all the fat tragically lost or gained by famous ladies. There are plenty of media outlets who will weigh these pounds of flesh.
A good deal has already been said about the habit media, and some individuals, have of screeching, “have a meatball sandwich” or, “stop having so many meatball sandwiches”. Anybody with a pulse and a faculty for thought can spot this useless game from fifty paces. We know it very well. What’s less examined, though, is that sub-species of snark especially reserved for royalty. We get the measure of our Princesses in a way that is subtly different a bog-standard sandwich.
Compared to everyday meatballs, the snark we see for the Duchess of Cambridge is civil. Even Perez adds a scrawled heart in his critique of Her Highness’ waist and is not as uncivil as he might be; although not civil enough to give the lady her title. (He is American.) The snark is more civil, perhaps, because it is a good deal older than Zumba.
The style evolution of Duchess Kate
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visits Hope House on February 19, 2013 in London, England. Photo: Getty images
For centuries, we’ve had a particular take on the royal female body.
Celebrities, and, indeed, women of all stripes, are assessed for their competence, their power and even their loyalty in purely visual terms. A Princess, though, is assessed for her very essence; a Princess is absolutely interchangeable with her body. To criticise a Princess’ body is to attack her very royalty! And, we can’t go about doing that. Like the Princess from the Princess and the Pea. Princesses are notoriously fragile.
When I was small, Princess Diana was briefly the sovereign of my heart. The minute she stepped out of her privileged adolescence and into my lounge-room, I was spellbound. Here, it seemed, was the essence of Princess. She was good because she was beautiful. She was beautiful because she was good.
Much later, I learned the young Princess was not so naïve as to be unaware of this judgement. She knew we had read in fairytales that beauty was the proof of a Princess’ moral condition. Her Highness’ struggle to stay beautiful and good came close, by many accounts, to consuming her whole.
Diana, as it has been said a gajillion times before, was a PR natural. She knew that in looking good she would be routinely seen to be doing good. Diana’s delicate beauty was quite enough alone to secure her our trust; but she gained our devotion by taking her beauty and putting it in khakis in hospitals. We always remember Diana as an angel. But, if we compare her good works, say, to those of HRH Princess Anne, a woman who has long shunned makeup, Diana seems to have spent an awful lot of time chatting with Gianni Versace.
Now, I don’t care for a minute to diminish the actual good Diana did; she must always be remembered for her literal and figurative embrace of HIV patients in an era buckled by fear. But her beautiful goodness, so long the stuff of fairytales, was amplified in the unusual light of the late twentieth century.
This is not to suggest that Princess Diana had it bad. Her life, its tragic end notwithstanding, was awesome; and, of course, she was hardly alone in being subject to the judgement of visual scrutiny. It is to suggest, however, that we think of a Princess as absolutely indivisible from her body and it is for this reason that our snark takes a different turn.
Just so long as they look like Princesses, we’re extraordinarily nice to them. This was never so locally evident as in 2005 when Prince Frederik of Denmark accompanied his marvellously made-over bride to Australia. This nation has rarely seen such a grovel. There was more fawning than a Bambi marathon during a tour wherein Mary’s waist size was hailed again and again. No journalist dared to utter a thing about Mary’s past save for her fondness for Fruit Tingles. It was as though we were satisfied with appearances alone. She is good because she is beautiful. She is beautiful because she is good.
Mary is yet to test the boundaries of the acceptable female silhouette. But, if she did, we can be sure of what would unfold. If Mary gained a few kilos a la Sarah, Duchess of York, journalists would feel obliged to poke around her past for evidence of her moral corruption. She is no longer beautiful; therefore she can no longer be good.
And, if Mary lost a few too many kilos, we’d see precisely the sort of “analysis” of which The Duchess of Cambridge is now the object.
The nonsense started for Kate Middleton in the weeks before her wedding. The New York Post asked “No More Weighty, Katie?” in the days before the fabulous nuptials and the questions haven’t actually ceased since then.
Is Kate Too Thin? Why is Kate So Thin?Is Kate Middleton Getting Thinner?More creatively, some news outlets have begun to ask "Is Kate to Thin To Bear an Heir?" and, absurdly and wonderfully, "Is Kate Too Thin to Swim the English Channel?"
“Questions abut Kate’s weight” said the Daily Beast in March, “just won’t go away.”
No. They won’t for just as long as editors who should know better ask these questions. And they won’t, I suppose, until we relieve ourselves of our yearning for fairytales with perfect, imaginary princesses at their centre.