Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kate Middleton and Body Policing


'Royal Wedding of William & Kate 296' photo (c) 2011, Jens Rost - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Though I am well aware of the issues that come with monarchy, including the celebration of excess and privilege, I must admit that I am always pretty aware of their presence in the media.  Much like when Diana married Prince Charles, Buckingham palace very much needed to be infused with the youth and vitality brought by Kate Middleton, though technically, she is little more than a brood mare on a large stage. It may sound cruel, but who could deny that it's perceived as Kate's job to push out an heir and a spare as quickly as possible. Within weeks of her marriage, the royal baby bump watch began in earnest and has not stopped.

The media is all a flutter regarding Katie Couric's comments about the Duchess of Cambridge.
An audience member asked Couric who her dream interview would be. "Kate Middleton," the host replied before adding: "I think she needs to eat more, though because she's so thin".
There is no doubt that Middleton is slim and it didn't help that she lost quite a bit of weight before her wedding.  She could simply be a woman who is quite naturally slim - such things do happen.  Unless there is evidence that she is binging and purging or starving herself, any commentary on her body is extremely inappropriate.  Women come in all shapes an sizes but you wouldn't know that from the media's penchant for shifting goal posts and unrealistic expectations.  If Kate happened to be a full figured woman, the media would waste no time fat shaming her.  Sarah Ferguson is an admitted emotional eater, who gained weight due to her feelings of isolation and the pressure of a royal life and the press had a field day shaming her. 

The truth of the matter is that any woman who leads a public life will inevitably be subject to body policing. Rhianna, Fergie, Tyra Banks, Jessica Simpson, Oprah Winfrey have all been subjected to body shaming because of their weight.  This includes anti-fat comments, as well as purposefully unflattering pictures of them eating.  They serve the purpose of keeping these widely successful women off balance and always second guessing themselves.  Though this has begun to happen to men, it is not even close to the degree of regularity that it happens to women.  

Clearly body policing by the media is problematic and even more so when engaged in by a woman.  Buckingham palace is said to be upset by Couric's commentary.
They trigger uncomfortable memories of Princess Diana, who famously battled an eating disorder while receiving little sympathy or support from the palace.

Kate is understood to have lost more than five kilos before her wedding to Prince William and there has been recent speculation that her slight frame is inhibiting her ability to fall pregnant.
Well, if the memories of Diana's bulima are uncomfortable, all I can say is that they should be.  They all knew what she was doing but were only concerned that she put on a good public face and keep her issues to herself.  Diana's pain is not something that should be forgotten or locked away because they teach a very valuable lesson - regardless of how much you have or achieved, unless you love yourself, you will always be unhappy.  They also teach the harm of airbrushed and heavily photoshopped images in media and body policing.  One does not simply wake one day and decide that one's body is inferior.  These are messages that are internalised over the years.  When girls as young as eight talk about wanting to go on diets, that should be sending a message that what is happening is dangerous and sweeping it under the rug is not going to change anything.

I was particularly disgusted with the idea that Duchess of Cambridge's body size  has been suggested as the reason she is not yet pregnant.  Though she may be expected to have a child that does not mean that Kate is any rush to comply with public thoughts on her reproduction.  For all anyone knows, she could wake up each morning and take her birth control pill, like many women.  I find it interesting that though it takes two people to have a baby, that the problem is automatically assumed to be Kate's fault.  Has no one ever heard of a low sperm count?  For all we know, her husband could be impotent.   Everywhere we turn something is deemed wrong with Kate's body and that is a problem.  It's always about living up to the expectations of the public, to the point of being denied any bodily integrity.

In many ways Kate will live and die in privilege because of her marriage but what she has in common with all women is gender and body policing.  We may all experience it differently due to various factors, be none of us can deny that it continues to be an issue in our lives thanks to patriarchy.   Would it really be so hard to have a world in which women weren't constantly put on trial because of their size and shape?  It's not emotionally healthy and in extreme cases, the consequence is death.