A few years ago, I got mistaken for the Duchess of Cambridge. Despite the fact that hair straightened, face covered by gargantuan sunglasses and dressed in a summery frock at the Army- Navy annual polo match, I could’ve looked like any celebrity in the history of celebrities in large sunglasses, I was thrilled. A healthy size 10-12, I was flattered to be likened to the woman who’d won the heart of the heart-throb Prince. She had class, she supported charities, and Hello magazine was filled with news of her working for Jigsaw or attending roller-discos.
Almost exactly a year later, I was diagnosed with anorexia, and although I was fortunate enough to recover very quickly, during this brief illness, my idols changed. I fantasised about having the body of Agnes Deyn or Alexa Chung, the it-girls at the time, not the girl-next-door figure of the future Princess. In fact, during my recovery and subsequent relapse into Binge Eating Disorder, the feminine physiques of powerful, confident women were a source of comfort to a girl whose notions of perfection complied with the body of a Victoria’s Secrets model.
But as the Royal Wedding loomed, the girl-next-door I’d been likened to became increasingly emaciated and slender. As my skeletal form regained its natural curves and womanliness, the previously healthy girlfriend of Prince William did the opposite, and, not long after their wedding, even adorned a few ‘thinspiration’ websites. In the online world, girls were saying things like ‘I want to be her,’ and ‘she’s so thin, she looks amazing.’ Several magazines enlisted professionals to calculate her bmi. Their estimates ranged from a shocking 14 to a (slightly) less shocking 17, both of which are under the healthy range for a woman, 18-24.
However, the Duchess of Cambridge has only recently become a subject of controversy. Winner of the Man Booker Prize, Hilary Mantel has recently described the princess as a ‘painfully thin,’ jointed doll ‘on which certain rags are hung.’ Predictably, she has been met with scorn and derision for claiming that the Duchess appears ‘to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished.’
Admittedly, some of this scorn and outrage is justifiable. Kate is not ‘just a Royal vagina,’ as Mantel implies, but, like the last girl to marry an heir to the throne, an individual with her own agenda. The charities she has chosen to become a patron of clearly reflect her own tastes, from the National Portrait Gallery, to Action on Addiction, a lesser-known charity that helps recovering addicts and their families. It cannot, therefore, be argued that the real Duchess of Cambridge is as lifeless as her recent portrait.
Nevertheless, Mantel’s point that the Duchess is ‘painfully thin,’ cannot be met with either scorn or outrage. The case remains that she is painfully thin, and, unlike models, music stars or actresses, cannot claim that her weight has anything to do with her career. Millions of girls worldwide aspire to be her, one of the many hazards of living in the public eye and she should be setting a healthy, positive example of individuality, rather than being a toothpick with a penchant for charities.
In his blog for the Telegraph today, Jake Wallis Simons argued that it is for this exact reason that Kate is so thin- she’s under a lot of pressure and media pressure to gain weight isn’t helping. And he has a point. Kate is under a lot of pressure, but she also has a highly functional team responsible for her image, from her hair to her wardrobe and from her lifestyle to her figure. So what makes Kate different from, say, Michelle Obama, who also lives her life in the public eye? Or Samantha Cameron? Or Hillary Clinton? Or Beatrice and Eugenie? There are plenty of women linked to political or royal men who manage to set a positive, empowering example for women (ok, maybe not Beatrice and Eugenie) and all Kate has to do is gain a few pounds.
Since the Royal Wedding, less than two years ago, anything Kate is seen in can be guaranteed to fly of the shelves. Her new fringe was headline news. Her visit to Cambridge brought ardent students out of the library and into Market Square to cheer their support for her. Kate is in a position of power and, with power comes responsibility. You’d never see the future queen stumbling out of a pub in a non-existent mini-dress. Clearly, the Duchess needs to realise that her influence isn’t merely on fashion and manners, but on self-image as well, and the sooner she portrays a healthy, strong, feminine self-image, the better.