Royal weight watchers

Kate Middleton ... our latest obesession with the royal female body.

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.

For centuries, we’ve had a particular take on the royal female body. 

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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.

9 comments

  • Don't forget all the ever so charming things said about Fergie - right from the very begining she was lumbered with labels like the Duchess of Pork.

    Commenter
    Meg
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 11:59AM
    • Hey Miss Meg. Yes. I did make brief mention of Her former Highness, Sarah.

      Commenter
      Helen Razer
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 11:08PM
  • Princesses, since the day humans became leaders who declared themselves kings, like queens, have been property.
    Its like having a car. You don't want a daggy, rusty, dull car in your driveway (or driving it out) to taint the shiny pearly gates of your palace or dullen the majestic heights of your mighty castle...er, or a wonky old horse to a beautiful white/black stallion.
    The only purpose of a princess is to serve as a desireable property to barter for land rights, loyalty, honour. If she is not desireable (i.e. slim, beautiful, elegant, fragile, blank slate) she is not coveted, and the king loses credibility.
    Once incorporated into a family (bartered) her role is simple. Smile, close both eyes to her lord's wandering eye (as seen in the numerous mistresses/concubines every king has had in the history of mankind), and be a blank slate so that everyone will think she is good and likeable because they are projecting themselves onto a blank slate.
    Its just sad that a woman of the 21st century of non-royal stock would lower herself to such ridiculous aspirations.
    Have you seen her interviews with the media? She is so docile, so meek - and under all of that belonging to an immensely calculative family that engineered her induction into the royal family. Wouldn't be surprised if she's just smart enough to pretend to enjoy having William interrupt her every 2 seconds and speak for her.

    Commenter
    Green Tea
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 12:36PM
    • Yes. Great point. Royalty is the property of the realm. And the instrument of God. It's such an odd institution.

      Commenter
      Helen Razer
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 11:10PM
  • It just occurred to me that when princesses go overweight, <b>their</b> morality must be questioned; but when they go 'underweight' it's clearly <b>someone else's</b> fault. They're sort of 'uber good', and hence probably being put upon by evil external forces... Suddenly the 'analysis' of the relationship between Diana and 'The Palace' makes more sense... :s

    Commenter
    Kath
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 1:42PM
    • Such a good point. You're quite right! Overweight equals indulgence. Underweight equals powerlessness.

      Commenter
      Helen Razer
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 11:11PM
  • @Kath wrote: It just occurred to me that when princesses go overweight, their morality must be questioned; but when they go 'underweight' it's clearly someone else's fault.

    Unfortunately, that's true for everyone these days! Just look at the never-ending articles on weight and diet. If you're too thin, it's social pressure. If you're overweight, it's your own individual gluttony.

    Somewhere we each need a healthy weight, where we feel good and the doctor doesn't feel any need to lecture us. Maybe it won't win fashion awards, but who cares!

    The Duchess of Cambridge has always been good-looking, at whatever weight we've seen her. Here's hoping that she's feeling happy and healthy, because that's what's really important.

    Commenter
    It's sad
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    April 12, 2012, 3:35PM
    • Is it princesses who marry into the family this applies to, or all princesses? I ask because you mention the Diana/Anne comparison but I guess those who marry into the family are under more scrutiny from fellow 'commoners'.

      Princess Margaret was certainly a beauty in her time but was often viewed as wayward.

      Commenter
      Pants
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      April 12, 2012, 4:09PM
      • Never was a mere mortal elevated to heights as Mary Donaldson. I still cannot understand why Australians look past every single fault of THAT family and personages and yet revile the English royalty.
        Everyone looks past her manufactured looks and behaviour, the gossip magazines never dare to write anything other than positive statements.
        She has a super fortunate life, long holidays (which are not widely publicised) and is very very wealthy. We tear down everyone else, but as this author said above, we grovel at Mary's feet. Yet, all she did was marry a wealthy man. We cannot forgive someone like Brynne Edelsten for doing the same. Is it because we dont think Brynne pretty enough?
        It is unforgiveable for a woman not to be good looking.

        Commenter
        smallfry
        Location
        Hampton
        Date and time
        April 13, 2012, 4:15AM
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