While most of the world was thrilled to get a glimpse the new royal baby, I was getting teary-eyed about something else — Kate Middleton’s postpartum bump.
Among the many luxuries afforded to the Duchess of Cambridge for her debut as a mother was a hair and make-up team to assure that her tresses were shiny and smooth and her complexion dewy. These magicians, whoever they are, did a marvelous job of erasing any signs of fatigue and physical stress that pregnancy and labor, no matter who you and your vagina married, brings on. Well, everything except the bump.
The fact that you still look quite pregnant for a couples of weeks after you give birth is something I failed to understand before I had a baby. Shortly before my due date I sent my sister links for non-maternity dresses I could wear to the bris, wondering if I should get a small or medium. If I could time-travel my way back to that Gchat, I would write rows and rows of “hahaha’s” just so we got the point. (I wrote more about the perils of dressing during and after pregnancy here.)
He’s not yet two days old, only weighs 3.8 kg and doesn’t even have a name. Yet Baby Cambridge, third in line to the throne and pronounced beautiful by his doctor, is currently occupying the world’s attention. Kate, it seems, has done her job.
Throughout British royal history, the existence of the heir and the spare has been of the utmost importance. Queen Victoria may have presided over the industrial revolution, but she was also celebrated for being a mother of nine. Henry VIII divorced and beheaded two wives and divided the church all because he wanted a wife to give birth to a son. As the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I’s failure to marry and procreate plunged the political classes into crisis mode.
But whereas once the lack of an obvious heir put the country’s future stability at risk, that’s hardly the case today. The Queen is head of state, but her duties are ceremonial; uncertainty about the next monarch would not send the markets into a spasm. Theoretically, had William chosen to stay celibate, it wouldn’t have mattered (except to legions of wannabe-princesses): The royal line would have gone in another direction, but the U.K. would have been just fine. But that’s only in theory. We all know that had Kate not done what every pundit and gossip magazine had demanded since the first slice of wedding cake was snaffled — had a child, stat — she would have been seized on as a failure, not quite guilty of treason, but not far short.
As a woman of childbearing age, settled down domestically and waiting prudently until I’m just a few steps more settled down to become a mom, I cannot express how horrified I am by the recent Royal Baby fuss. I’ve never been a great royal-watcher myself, but all this “Kate waiting” was nigh impossible to avoid.
I certainly acknowledge that Kate Middleton’s birth canal probably got more media attention in one day than my entire existence ever will. But in modern society, many women find themselves in a microcosm of the Kate Middleton hot seat, at least in their own worlds: watched and fussed over but not necessarily in an empowering way.
Pregnant women and their bodies become public property even more than women already are; the street harassment that follows women when they’re not pregnant morphs into clucking and faux concern when they are.
I have to admit, I can see the temptation. Watching Kate Middleton go from regular person to princess, perfectly gorgeous as she is fawned over by the entire world, I understand girlhood fantasies. When the prince said, in his vows, “and all my belongings,” I could not control that involuntary pang of jealousy. To have access to that kind of wealth and power means to be able to truly change the world. Whatever Princess Kate wants to do, she can. The world is at her disposal. All her dreams…
Well, unless she dreams about having a bit of privacy. Cameras at her every blink. Tabloids measuring the size of her waist — talk about body commentary. I even saw one article discussing whether she should have been wearing nipple pads (!). Sure, now she can do anything, but within certain rules. Every word out of her mouth will be scrutinized and analyzed. Every gesture, every expression blogged to death. Not to mention big decisions. Imagine trying to start a family, or having a regular job. She is no longer just Kate, and she never will be again.
So I ask myself, would I do it? If I had an option of gaining access to enormous power, wealth and status in exchange for relinquishing a private life, would I do it? Loving gazes from the prince aside, I’m sure she had this discussion in her own mind as well. Marry the prince and become a princess, with all that it comes with, or live a normal life. I don’t think it’s as simple a decision as it seems.
As I watched the royal wedding unfold on television today, I was flooded with memories of the day I covered the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana nearly 30 years ago. I thought, as I so often have, of the one tender, unscripted moment I saw amid all the pomp and the pageantry of that riveting day in July 1981.
I was a reporter for the Associated Press in Pittsburgh and had a burning desire to cover the royal nuptials. I called the AP’s foreign editor and told him that I would be in London on vacation in late July, and offered to help with the reporting. (I remember ambition!) He said yes, and so I got on the phone again and booked a flight to London.
I was given what I thought was a plumb assignment, to do a feature story on Americans who had travelled to the wedding. But my first job was to stand on the Queen Victoria Memorial and watch the carriages leave Buckingham Palace, directly across the street. Should anything untoward happen, I was to find a phone and call the bureau.
In all likelihood, I’ll be up early Friday, watching the royal wedding with my daughter from my East Coast U.S. residence. That’s largely because my daughter’s manners, after 30 weeks of residence in my uterus, are still somewhat unpolished. She hasn’t been born yet, and the odds are that she’ll have kicked me awake well in time for the sounding of the bells at Westminster Abbey. In the event that I had an already-born daughter, however, I’d strongly prefer that she sleep in this Friday morning.
Is it really so important to get our bleary-eyed little American girls out of bed to show them that princesses are “real” and that “fairy tales can come true”? Not only would I say “no,” but I’ll go even further and say that it’s actually kind of creepy. Disney’s Princess industry is a golem of a marketing tool, aptly skewered by Peggy Orenstein’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” as well as by others. Yes, girls can be heroines, too. Hooray. But Mulan — a kick-butt Chinese warrior — is surely preferable to Cinderella, the girl who can’t find her way out of her own problems without a fairy-godmother bestowed dress, pair of shoes and prince. It’s important to note that Kate Middleton, whom I’m sure is a perfectly nice person, is going to have the world’s attention on Friday not because she’s cured cancer, but rather, because she’s done the best job of “marrying up” of anyone on the entire planet. And I’m sure she’ll look stunningly beautiful doing it.
They stand for everything I find abhorrent: Inherited political and religious power. Ostentatious wealth. Idleness. Scandalous behavior. Nonetheless, I can’t resist the English royals at wedding time.
At least I come by this fascination honestly: My late mother was born and raised in Yorkshire, where her family lived for generations — going as far back as Jews were allowed to reside in England. (Jews had been banished for many centuries, another black mark on the monarchy.) I lived in London as a foreign correspondent. I crave really strong English tea. My dogs are named for Jane Austen characters.
So when the news broke that Prince William had finally asked his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton for her hand in marriage, I had the most wonderful flashbacks. There was the time in 1981 when my sister and I woke up in the middle of the night to turn on the TV and watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer proceed through the happy streets of London on their way to St. Paul’s Cathedral and a marriage that, we learned later, was doomed from the start. Whatever. It was a great and lavish spectacle.