Why Royal Body Shaming Has to Stop
As Tatler remove large parts of their "misogynistic" and "sexist" article, is the time of royal bodyshaming finally coming to an end?
SEPTEMBER 21st, 2020
here has, and always will be, a unique relationship between the media and royalty. The Monarchy need the media to promote their work and the institution as a whole, and the media need the Royals to help sell newspapers. Concerning the latter, it is of no surprise that Princesses and Duchesses far outsell Princes and Dukes when it comes to column inches. What they wear, how they look, and the choices they make are scrutinised with forensic intricacy. Yet, with that global fascination comes all manner of criticisms and judgements, and one is sadly body image.
Throughout the decades of royal coverage, we have seen countless women pushed and pulled in all and every direction over their physical appearance. Too fat, too thin, too short, too tall – the carousel of perceived shame has spun endlessly for decades, and the narrative is becoming increasingly toxic.
Against this toxicity there is the beginnings of a pushback, and most recently it involved the Duchess of Cambridge. Earlier this year Tatler magazine published a brutal article delving into the private life of the Duchess. Titled Catherine The Great, the profile included accusations of the Duchess being overwhelmed with the workload left by the absence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex; suggested that Prince William was “obsessed” with his mother-in-law, Carole Middleton, and that Catherine’s sister Pippa Matthews “now speaks like the Queen”.
Whilst these accusations were quickly dismissed by Kensington Palace as a “string of cruel lies”, it was another element of the article which angered the Duchess of Cambridge, as well as her husband, the most.
The article callously and viciously commented on the Duchess’ weight, describing her as ‘perilously thin’, and the author of the article Anna Pasternak, didn’t stop there. She also compared Catherine to her late mother-in-law Princess Diana – who famously suffered from the eating disorder Bulimia. The comparison was said to have infuriated the family and it is obvious to see why.
The contents of the article were met with anger from the Palace and resulted in a legal letter being sent to Tatler to remove the piece from the website. A royal source told the Mail on Sunday at the time: “The piece is full of lies. There is no truth to their claim that the Duchess feels overwhelmed with work, nor that the Duke is obsessed with Carole Middleton. It’s preposterous.”
After what the Duchess described as “inaccuracies and false representations”, the magazine has now backed down from their defence of the original article. Sources have confirmed that around 25 per cent of the contents have been purged, with all references to the Duchess’ family and her weight being removed.
Although the comments on her family will have been extremely painful for the Duke and Duchess, who have always remained protective of the Middleton’s, it was the comments over Catherine’s weight which left a bitter taste in the mouth.
To title an article ‘Catherine the Great’, and then to allude to the Duchess’ waist size created a narrative that Catherine’s weight helped, or hindered, her “greatness”; an idea which is as deluded as it is sexist. The reality is, whatever size or shape a woman is, makes no determination on their success, ambitions or prominence.
The conversation around Catherine’s appearance isn’t new. Since her marriage in 2011, comments left on social media, on online news websites and even from historians have plagued her royal life. Most are usually blatant and defined as trolling. ‘Her face has too many wrinkles, she’s too athletic and her smile and teeth are too large’, are just a sprinkling of the misogynistic commentary being flung her way.
Yet, tragically for social media, this isn’t shocking or new. It seems as if the new mantra is to take down women for their looks, and it’s creating a venomous and intolerant atmosphere, robbing women their right to flourish in their successes. Sometimes however, these comments can be wrapped in veiled compliments. “Oh, Kate would look so much better if she put on some weight”, “She looked so much younger with a bit more weight on,” are statements visible across numerous comment sections of the media’s websites. These are designed to perpetuate a narrative that the Duchess needs to better herself to achieve the approval of society in general.
Online, isn’t the only place these comments exist. In 2013, historian Hilary Mantel caused outrage by her description of the Duchess of Cambridge “as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character.”
The remarks resulted in a backlash against the author, including from Prime Minister David Cameron. He said, “What I've seen of Princess Kate at public events, at the Olympics and elsewhere is this is someone who's bright, who's engaging, who's a fantastic ambassador for Britain.
“We should be proud of that, rather than make these rather misguided remarks.”
This outlook on body image isn’t just assigned to the Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson both suffered horrific and consistent commentary on their bodies. An article in 1996 described the late princess as “Princess Lumpy Legs”. Instigated after photos appeared of Diana leaving the Harbour Club fitness centre in London wearing workout shorts, TV networks and magazines dedicated days of coverage to debates over whether the princess did or did not have cellulite running down her thighs.
Diana, who had heard about the pictures, went against her friend’s advice and read the countless newspaper reports. The next day, she returned to the gym, though this time in a long overcoat. Asked why she had worn the coat, she stated she was cold, yet observers pointed out it was the hottest day of the year so far. The speculation of the bizarre subject was still raging a year later. International reports again suggested she had cellulite after she was photographed sitting with her legs crossed in Sydney while on an official visit to Australia. The result caused more pain for Diana, and had a devastating effect on her confidence.
In 2007, Prince William, then 24, revealed that the comments were particularly wounding. “For any woman, I imagine, it’s just outrageous that these people sit behind their desks and comment on it,” he said. “There were many times we just sort of had to cheer her up and tell her she was the best thing ever.
“There are a lot of people feeding it and unnecessarily, I might add. I’m afraid that there’s always people out there who want to make money from her, no matter what the cost is to her memory or Harry and I.”
Sarah Ferguson was also lambasted for her image. ‘Fatty Fergie’, ‘Stupid and Greedy Sarah’, were just a taster of the headlines which dominated newspapers, who were more than happy to tear from her their pound of flesh. Yet unlike for Diana’s boys, Fergie’s girls, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, have too been dragged through the body shaming dirt. Referred to as ‘the two ugly sisters’ at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, last year they admitted that both had struggled being criticised for their weight and fashion.
For Eugenie, however, in 2018 she made the ultimate statement around the importance of positive body imagery. Having suffered from scoliosis, the royal underwent major and extensive surgery at the age of 12, leaving a large scar on her back. At her wedding to Jack Brooksbank, she specifically asked her dress to be designed to display her scar to the world and forgo a veil too. Speaking on This Morning the princess explained her reason for doing so, saying, “It’s a lovely way to honour the people who looked after me and a way of standing up for young people who also go through this.
“I think you can change the way beauty is, and you can show people your scars and I think it’s really special to stand up for that.”
The Duchess of Sussex has also faced unfair criticisms over her body, specifically her legs, and it highlights that all royal women have been subjected to the unfair and unjustified expectations placed upon them, by a society that values physicality compared to morality.
The semi-retraction by Tatler magazine show that the royals are refusing to take these types of criticisms lying down. For them, by all means scrutinise and question their actions and behaviours, but body shaming never has and never will fit into either of those categories.
We are currently living in a world where every aspect of a woman’s physical appearance is questioned and analysed. It occasionally happens with men, but that type of interest isn’t as lucrative. Some may argue that royal women actively utilise fashion as a way of self-promotion, and this allows further comment on their physical traits. It does not.
Fashion should and can be for every shape and size. Of course, when the Duchess of Cambridge wears an outfit, naturally it quickly sells out – subsequently described as the “Kate-effect” – but it doesn’t detract from her work. Quite the contrary, it can bring attention to it. Take the recent face mask Catherine wore for an engagement in Sheffield. Designed by Amaia, the ‘Liberty Print’ mask promoted the NHS Charities Together initiative and brought attention to the incredible work of our front-line workers. Yet, some comments online quickly pointed out her weight, alluding that the mask made her face look slimmer – a ridiculous and untrue statement.
The reality is, irrespective of the size and shape of any member of The Royal Family, the subject should remain off limits. How much the Duchess of Cambridge weighs does not define her work or who she is. Her commitment, dedication and zest to do her part is her main attraction for the public. The same is said for any other female member of the monarchy. With Tatler pulling the misogynistic and offensive elements of their article on ‘Catherine The Great’, it shows that royal fans and the public are no longer accepting the dilution of a Duchess’ presence simply to how they look. We can all admire their fashion and beauty, but surely what’s on the inside matters much more than what’s on the outside?
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