The press is stalking Diana. Again. Except, unlike the 1980s and 1990s, Diana is dead, so they are stalking the ghost of a woman who died 20 years ago. And, really, they’re kind of stalking the ghost of an image that they created in the first place. Diana was just a woman, but the press made her an “icon”, because we all know the press fetishises young, pretty women, and no more so than young, pretty, royal women – the most perfect realisation of womanhood in all the land.
Hands up, I’m no Diana fanatic. Maybe it’s because I was 12 when she died and it meant my mum had to leave me with the babysitter because she had to go into work on a Sunday to cover the story, and she and my babysitter had a spat on the doorstep because my babysitter had been crying and my mum, well, let’s just say, she felt differently. And maybe it’s because when you’re raised by a staunch republican, royals are just humans and, yes, it was sad that a woman had died and, yes, it was tragic that two small boys had lost their mother, but their mother was a human, like everyone else, even if that particular human possessed a real flair for dressing herself and cast a dramatic lone shadow outside the Taj Mahal for the world’s cameras.
But, for the first time since 1981, this isn’t really about Diana. It’s about the media’s obsession with certain women and the complete denial of the existence of others. Women over 50, women of colour, fat women – they are nowhere to be seen. But women like Diana – slim (actual) princesses who safely conform to an ideal of beauty that makes men feel comfortable about themselves and the world – they are everywhere. I half expect the offices of the Daily Mail or The Telegraph to be covered with old newspaper clippings of Diana, like a stalker’s room revealed in a movie, every last inch of wall space plastered with a terrifying obsession for a woman who has no idea who they are. Or, in this case, even more creepily, who is dead.
The media’s insistence on Harry and Meghan Markle getting engaged is not a concerned Mr Bennet hoping for love, but a hysterical Mrs Bennet shrieking to women worldwide that this is the single best thing that could happen to a woman
In Friday’s Daily Mail, like some sort of psychic with a ouija board, Sarah Vine attempted to dissect Diana by her make-up. Apparently, it was was a “weapon” and her scarlet nails made her “feel in control”. Apparently, “her eyes, huge and moist and outlined heavily in black against her gaunt, pale face, gave her the appearance of a wounded animal [...] the effect she wanted to achieve”. Diana’s make-up bag is Vine’s tea leaves and she’s spouting nonsense based on absolutely nothing. "Where’s the harm?" you might ask. Where’s the harm in the inferred secret motivations of a dead woman’s make-up on the front page of a newspaper? I think it’s somewhere between objectification, a morbid embalming of a type of women that those Mail and Telegraph readers believe tragically doesn’t exist any more and, of course, princess fetishising.
And this is the bit that makes me want to stick Barbie’s plastic pointy toe in my own eye. Because even Disney, a private company that has traded on princesses for decades, and whose logo is a princess castle, has realised they have to move away from making heroines that look like small figurines on the top of wedding cakes.
But Dacre and co are lagging behind. And this is most evident in the desperate attempt to run stories of Meghan Markle marrying Prince Harry. At the time of writing, the Daily Star urgently asks: “Will Prince Harry propose TODAY? Meghan Markle ‘spotted in London ahead of 36th birthday”. ABC News goes with "Meghan Markle celebrates 36th birthday amid speculation over her future with Prince Harry” and, as if they had read my mind, the Daily Express asks: “Princess Diana and Meghan Markle: Is Prince Harry’s girlfriend inspired by his mother?” (they’ve illustrated this insight by pointing out that both women do indeed wear clothes). The Telegraph usually goes off-piste and just went with out-and-out age-shaming: “Meghan Markle has just hit the trickiest age to be a woman”. Happy birthday!
This “excitement”, however, is not because, in the words of my mother in her less cynical moments, “everyone loves a good wedding”, but because the British media and its deeply, deeply troubling and harmful idea of womanhood loves a skinny, silent, smiling princess. Just ask K-Middy.
And no more is this true than when the princess-to-be is a Cinderella, from a more lowly position, be it aristocratic ranking, class or the fact they are an American actress. Because they are proof that the fairytale, the dream that every little girl is told to chase, the marker by which a woman’s entire value is judged, can come true. If she’s lucky enough, a wonderful man, a man inherently better than her, will find her, improve her and make her and her life complete. The media’s insistence on Harry and Meghan Markle getting engaged is not a concerned Mr Bennet hoping for love, but a hysterical Mrs Bennet shrieking to women worldwide that this is the single best thing that could happen to a woman.
I really wish that Diana’s ghost (via Sarah Vine’s ouija board, no less) would file a restraining order against the papers and I really wish that Meghan Markle would declare (via some “Snowflake feminist” website, no less) that she doesn’t believe in marriage.
Sadly, I think these might be fairytales, too.