Pull up any news article or scan any screaming headline about Meghan Markle and chances are, you’ll be reading about her inability to eat garlic or take selfies, how she “broke royal protocol” by crossing her legs or her “scandalous” bare shoulders. It seems like the Duchess can’t go a day without being slammed for a fashion faux pas or compared to sister-in-law Kate Middleton.
In the eyes of the media and consequently the world, Markle alternates between the roles of the style icon, the rebellious royal, the heartless divorcee, the sweet American girl, the cunning social climber and the beautiful duchess.
Her life has become fodder for gossip as writers squeeze out every detail of her juicy past, filled with stories of scorned ex-husbands, estranged best friends and jealous half-siblings. They gush over her expensive outfits and sophisticated taste and point to her every movement as a “royal faux pas.” They shame her for her past endeavors, like a sultry video of her performing a striptease that recently surfaced. It’s a far cry from how they treat Prince Harry, whose scandal-filled bachelor days have been forgotten in favor of stories that focus on his charity trips to Africa and his relationship with his late mother, Princess Diana.
However, Markle is more than just the beautiful actress-turned duchess that the headlines have painted her out to be. Behind the cream fascinators and messy family life lies a history of noteworthy achievements and charitable actions. She graduated from Northwestern, a top American university, with a double major in theater and international relations. While she worked her way up to the small screen, she balanced odd jobs as a calligrapher, gift wrapper, Deal or No Deal briefcase model, blogger and restaurant hostess. With hard work and grit, she earned her big break as a leading actress in the TV show Suits.
All her life, Markle has also been heavily involved in politics, activism and charity. At the age of 11, she wrote a letter to Procter & Gamble about how one of their ads reinforced the sexist idea that cooking and cleaning were for women. Moved by her words, the company later edited their ad to meet her demands. She interned at the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires at the age of 20 and served as an ambassador of humanitarian organizations like World Vision and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
Unfortunately, Markle’s accomplishments and actions as a philanthropist, an intellectual and a humanitarian often go unnoticed and unreported by magazines and newspapers. There is personality, substance and intelligence in Markle’s character, but as a woman, the media neglects these details. Like the thousands of actresses, models, singers and other female celebrities that have graced magazine covers and TV screens, Markle has been reduced from an educated, determined woman to a beautiful starlet in glamorous clothes with a messy past.
The media’s coverage of the Duchess is evidence of how society perceives famous women. While men are lauded for their intelligence, shrewdness and achievements, women are treated much differently by the press. When a woman catapults into the limelight, the world becomes much less focused on her accomplishments and talent and much more fixated on her body and clothes. She’s compared to other women in her fashion sense, measurements, past relationships and chastity. Her scandals and love affairs have taken center stage in her public image, instead of any incredible feats or harsh barriers she’s faced.
The media needs to change how it portrays women, who are incredibly diverse in their mindsets, opinions, backgrounds and passions. Journalists and reporters are responsible for sharing the stories of famous women and when they do so in a way that focuses on the women’s appearances and love lives, they shape society’s perception of women as a whole. They reinforce the idea that women’s main strengths lie in superficial things, failing to highlight their strength and personal qualities. It’s time to call for better media coverage of Meghan Markle and all women like her.
Photo: Mark Jones/Flickr