Kate Middleton and the weight debate

The pressure to be thin is true for a duchess and women in the public eye

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Attend A Polo Match For Foundation Of Prince William & Prince Harry

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

When an already slender Kate Middleton lost an estimated 20 lb. between her November 2010 engagement and April 2011 wedding, the reaction from a society that upholds size 00 as a fashion ideal was predictable: however did she do it? Rumours that her mother introduced her to a low-carbohydrate regime devised by French doctor Pierre Dukan catapulted the 30-year-old The Dukan Diet onto bestseller lists worldwide.

But Middleton’s rapid weight loss also gave rise to concern, particularly among those who remembered Prince William’s mother’s struggle with bulimia. Back in March, Belfast resident Heather Lindsay reportedly advised Prince William’s fiancée “not to lose any more weight” when she shook hands with her during a walkabout. Lindsay later reported Middleton laughed and said it was “part of the wedding plan.” At the time, few questioned that logic. The spectre of brides dropping several dress sizes before their big day is part of the wedding script, one even encouraged by reality TV shows like Bridal Bootcamp. And no bride was under more scrutiny than Middleton.

But the duchess of Cambridge’s disturbingly rail-thin appearance during her Canadian tour, one not fully captured by cameras, suggests the weight loss was more than wedding jitters. It was a subject of rabid discussion among journalists covering the tour, though rarely mentioned in their reports, primarily because the topic is not part of the fairy-tale narrative that William and Catherine embody—one that sells newspapers and magazines. One British journalist, a veteran royal watcher, puts it thus: “Her weight is simply not discussed.” Some reporters, especially women, are reluctant to engage in “body-snarking,” the common practice of criticizing women in the public eye for their physical appearance, and they’ve chosen not to add to the immense pressure the duchess already is under.

One person willing to voice concern, however, is Fabiola De Clercq, the founder of Italy’s Association for the Study and Research of Anorexia. “You only need look at the pictures from the current visit to Canada to see that she really has lost a lot of weight and that she’s bordering on anorexia,” she told the Italian news agency Adnkronos, adding, “the young duchess’s appearance risks becoming an advert for anorexia” and will influence young women routinely bombarded with unhealthy images of photoshopped models and starlets. But already Catherine is being cited as “thinspiration” on pro-anorexia websites.

“The skeletal ideal has become a norm,” says New-York-based cultural critic Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in Media & News, who points out women in the public eye who waste away are applauded in the media, while those who fail to conform are ridiculed. In her book, Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, Pozner writes of the advent of the “lollipop,” a term coined in the 1990s to describe women with big heads atop stick-figure bodies, among them Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox who were visibly skinnier at the end of the show’s 10-year run. Former Ally McBeal star Portia de Rossi writes in her memoir of developing an eating disorder to conform to the standard.

Similar pressures exist in royal circles. Wallis Simpson, the duchess of Windsor, led the rallying cry with the adage: “No woman can be too rich or too thin.” In her memoir, Sarah Ferguson recalls the pain that media taunts of “Duchess of Pork” and “Frumpy Fergie” caused her. And Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, who was chastised by a Swedish women’s magazine in the 1990s for appearing to have “eaten too many hamburgers,” was celebrated by the same publication as a style setter and frequent cover girl after her rapid weight loss—and before the palace announced in 1997 that she suffered from anorexia.

Pressures on Catherine are even more intense, with her body a vessel that serves two contradictory purposes: as a stylish new ambassador for the monarchy, she’s the most-watched clothes hanger in the world, which calls for hyper-thinness; yet she’s also required to produce the proverbial “heir and a spare.” Speculation is swirling that this latter task might be problematic. “When very young women enter the downward spiral of eating disorders, their future fertility is at risk,” says De Clercq. The veteran royal watcher is more explicit: “I doubt Kate can get pregnant at this weight.” That’s a story she’ll never write, even if the conversation about the pressure on women to take up less space is one we should be having.




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Kate Middleton and the weight debate

  1. She looks very healthy to me.  Very few people in Canada die from being too thin, but thousands die each year from obesity-related disorders and diseases. 

    Media during the last 20 years seems to have shifted to paint “a few extra pounds” as acceptable, or even desirable.  It isn’t.  And there is a wildly disproportionate focus on anorexia among young people, while the pandemic of childhood obesity continues to be largely ignored, in the name of “making people feel good about their body image” even if in reality their bodies are overfed, under-exercised sacks of excess.

    The most severe eating disorder afflicting our nation is over-eating, not under-eating.  The proportion of adults in Canada who are overweight or obese is totally out of control. If anything Kate Middleton should be commended for setting a good example in terms of personal discipline and physical conditioning, unlike the prominent figures of this country including the rather rotund Mr Harper.

    Yes there is a small handful of runway models whose weight may be below a reasonable level, but the number pales in comparison to the number of Canadians who are either:

    a) fat, but won’t admit it; they joke about a few extra pounds but they aren’t fooling anyone; or
    b) fat, but think they are normal because the people they surround themselves with are just as fat or fatter; or
    c) fat, and willing to admit they are fat, but can’t be bothered to do anything substantial to fix the problem (“big is beautiful,” they try to convince themselves and anyone who will listen); or
    d) fat, and so far gone that they assume taking some responsibility for their own health is futile since they figure they are months away from inevitability in the form of cardiac arrest, insulin attack, limb amputation, stroke, or something else.

    • While I agree with you Sean that obesity is a major health problem in this country, I disagree that the Duchess is not underweight.  Take another look at the picture that accompanies this article.  I also disagree with you that people with eating disorders – either that the over eat or eat too little are blaise about it.  For the most part, they are deeply insecure and those who are obese feel disgusted with themselves.   Unfortunately, in order to make positive life changes, you have to have positive self-esteem and feel you deserve to be well and look good. 

      • Thanks for your response.

        I have taken another look at the picture and to me she looks like a healthy woman.  Keep in mind that most Canadian women are overweight or obese (Statistics Canada, 2005. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/access_acces/alternative_alternatif.action?l=eng&loc=../../pdf/4224906-eng.pdf ). Perhaps you are so accustomed to seeing overweight and obese women in Canada that a healthy woman appears underweight due to an altered (Canadianized?) perception of normal.

        Under-eating is inextricably linked to sexual abuse (correlation of around 50% for anorexic children) and is relatively rare in Canada compared to the problem of gluttony. However when it occurs it should be taken very seriously I think we can agree. But over-eating is a far more common problem and kills orders of magnitude more people each year than anorexia. It could be inferred from the Statistics Canada data that most of the people in this nation have a problem with eating too much, whether they admit it or not. Does the majority of Canada’s population have a severe self-esteem problem? I don’t know. However I observe over the years that there are huge numbers of confident (and arrogant) people whose physique indicates a propensity to gluttony and excess (Mr Harper, as well as a significant proportion of Canada’s corporate and public sector leaders, for example). For men in their fifties with high-powered jobs, at least, gluttony seems to be the norm in this country.

        • Sean…look at her waist!  Okay…let’s just stick to the facts.  #1 – why was the article written – because the Duchess, who by all accounts was not overweight lost 20 pounds; the Duchess appears emaciated in the opinion of many – so much so that there is question that she may be suffering from ammenorhia.
          Now, lets get on to what is not covered in the article but is your issue – over weight people.  I am a nurse; I am 5’11″ and 155 pounds.  I am neither overweight nor obese.  I have 2 daughters who are the same height as I am and are 140 pounds.  I do not have my perceptions altered.
          I tried to explain to you that your perceptions that overweight people are gluttons and arrogant is unjust.  I wonder if you even know anybody who has struggled with weight issues.

          • …oh and I forgot to mention Sean, that Kate Middleton is a smoker so your perceptions that she looks “healthy” because she is skinny are likely way off.

  2. It’s sad to see Macleans magazine indulge in tabloid fodder.  This woman is under pressure and it’s poor writing by the person who wrote this article that allows that pressure to build.  2 young people who already, so early in their marriage, face a world watching are being told how one is supposed to eat.  Perhaps Kate is just naturally slim, perhaps she had more weight on the last couple years and now she is just returning to her natural size.  There are lots of people out there who are size 0 who do not have an eating disorder.  There are also lots of people out there who are average in weight who may also have an eating disorder.  How it’s anyone’s business why it should be even discussed is beyond me.

    • Kate Middleton is a role model for young impressionable girls who will want to emulate her.  Discussing that she is underweight is perfectly reasonable.  It is in keeping with European fashion shows keeping models under 117 pounds off the runways.  While it is true that some people are naturally slim, the Duchess was a normal weight before and went on a diet as explained in the article.  She has been in the limelight for at least 7 years and was never emaciated like she is now. 

      • You’re exactly right. The media would be contributing to the insanity if they pretend she hasn’t lost considerable weight. We owe it to the women of this country not to make this out to be normal or desirable.

        I mean damn, I almost suspect I could grab her waste between the circumference of my two hands alone and have little space left over! 

  3. I feel sorry for Kate. The pressure she must be under is insane.

    That said, everytime I see her in photos I have an unresistable urge to get some food and feed the poor child.

  4. I really wish we’d get past the obsession over weight. We’re screaming about obesity this year, while just a short time ago we were screaming about anorexics.

    Apparently we expect everyone to come from a cookie-cutter…and to do this we’ve had women starve to death in the middle of plenty, or people trying to break fat records …it’s absurd.

    What we should be doing is promoting a normal healthy weight…not too fat and not too thin….and Kate is decidedly too thin.

    Amidst all the ‘glamour’ her primary job is to produce an heir, and she won’t be able to do that at her current weight.

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