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Commentary: What the frenzy over Kate Middleton's 'disappearance' says about the royals -- and us

Mary McNamara and Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

I do, however, think it’s telling that when I scanned the intro to this piece, I read the phrase “palace reports” as “police reports.” We live in a culture obsessed with disappearing white women, and is there a more prominent white woman in the world than the current princess of Wales? I can only imagine a bigger fuss if Taylor Swift’s private jet suddenly vanished over the South Pacific during one of her jaunts across the globe for date night with Travis Kelce.

Some internet commenters have even likened Middleton to Shelly Miscavige, wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, who has not been seen in public since 2007 and whose whereabouts are a constant source of speculation in certain corners of the internet.

I am not suggesting there is foul play or anything cultlike going on here — merely that our brains have been trained by so much true crime content that many will see a sinister plot in something potentially much more mundane, like a middle-aged woman drawing a healthy and perfectly reasonable boundary around her personal life as she recovers from surgery.

The thing, though, is that there is really nothing healthy or reasonable about being a working royal. Queen Elizabeth II was known to say she had to be seen to be believed — that she needed to be visible as a monarch in order to be supported by her subjects. And Kate has always seemed spectacularly well suited to the unreasonable demands of a job that turns people into mascots of a massive and unforgiving institution. I recall the slight horror of seeing her trotted out, mere hours after giving birth, to pose for pictures and wave to the public, her hair perfectly coiffed and belly displaying no signs of having recently housed a fully gestated baby. Every time she stood there, appearing as if she’d done nothing more strenuous in the last 24 hours than taking a coffee run to the nearest Pret, I found myself both in awe of Kate — and a little sad for her. I hoped, if nothing else, those fancy private hospitals hooked her up with a bunch of those postpartum mesh undies, which are truly every new mother’s birthright.

This is all a way of saying that I completely get the fascination — especially because it’s so out of keeping with Kate’s willingness to play the game, maintain a stiff upper lip and give the public what they want. In this case by posing for a picture while holding up a copy of the Telegraph as proof of life. (Come on, Mary, she’d never read the Guardian.) Here’s where I state the obvious: I sincerely hope she’s doing well and recovers from whatever is ailing her. But I think that Kate’s apparent desire for privacy, while understandable on a human level, is just playing into the frenzy. Mary, do you think the palace should just come clean about what’s going on? At this point, would it even help quell the speculation?

McNamara: Well, so much of the random theorizing is just people killing time being bonkers; at this point, the rabbit hole has a life of its own. I guess a photo of her puttering around the garden or waving from a window might make some people feel better, but why on earth should she be expected to do that?

 

There is, of course, a chance that she is more ill than the palace would like people to believe, but abdominal surgery of any kind involves a fair amount of pain. And even if she is, as the palace has said, well enough to be working from bed, it’s not like she could just send out a snap of her in a recuperative hoodie and sweats, with her hair yanked back in a post-surgical braid and a prescription for Vicodin on the nightstand.

A big part of Kate Middleton’s job is showing up and standing around for long periods of time in heels and unforgiving fit ’n’ flare dresses or high-waisted slacks, smiling and chatting and crouching down to converse with small children all while looking fabulous. I have had abdominal surgery (though not of the sort that required a two-week hospital stay), and I’m here to tell you that, even minus the “looking fabulous” part, none of that would have been possible for months.

Yes, it is weird that the palace, which has required those barbaric immediate-postnatal glamour shots from so many of its female members, is not demanding that Kate slap on some makeup and prop herself up on a sofa for the royal photographer. But isn’t that a good thing? A move in the right direction? How many times do we need to be reminded that a princess, or any celebrity, is simply a human being with all the often-messy biological and emotional needs that implies?

It would be nice (but definitely not a job requirement) if, once she has recovered, Kate discusses the reality of her medical issues. It might help remove the shame we still too often feel about certain physical conditions, and the fear we collectively have about any illness or physical problem that cannot be overcome in a week or less. Even after a pandemic, our culture continues to shift the burden of medical care to the individual, allows a very small window for recovery from anything and insists everyone get back to work as quickly as possible.

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