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Front pages and homepages will no doubt trumpet on Saturday morning that actress Meghan Markle’s path down the aisle of St. George’s Chapel to marry Prince Harry is “a real-life fairy tale.” But if Markle’s life has been sprinkled with magic dust in any way, Saturday is not the beginning of the fairy tale — if anything, it’s the continuation.
Her life was already busy, full and interesting because, in a myriad of ways, Markle fashioned her own happily-ever-after long before she met her prince.
Markle’s adventures before marrying into the Mountbatten-Windsor clan will no doubt make her a delightful dinner companion at future state dinners. But it is all the more significant given that she was raised in a culture with confusing messages about achievement for women, and is seemingly managing to straddle both with grace and clarity.
Like many women born in the 1980s, Markle is the beneficiary of gender justice and racial justice movements to break barriers and shatter glass ceilings, and which taught women to find personal fulfillment through life experiences, rather than define themselves by men.
Markle fashioned her own happily-ever-after long before she met her prince.
And define herself she did: She graduated from Northwestern with a double major in theater and international studies, and she interned at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina during her senior year. She climbed her way up from bit parts in Hollywood films to reportedly earning $50,000 per episode of “Suits,” which ran for seven seasons. She has addressed the United Nations speaking about women’s empowerment, and she wrote a lifestyle blog called The Tig for many years on which she wrote about experiencing racism and the body image pressures of show business. She’s walked red carpets in designer clothes, collaborated on a clothing line with a top Canadian brand and traveled the world from India, Rwanda and New Zealand to Croatia and Vietnam.
Markle has crafted a robust life for herself full of stamps on her passport, IMDB credits and a bank balance that likely puts her in the one percent. And yet she’s still subject to a culture that has glorifies the (aptly named, in her case) princess fantasy — the idea that a man, ideally one who is good and rich, is how a woman completes her life.
Like all of us, she has almost certainly been fed a steady diet of American cultural messaging — from Disney princesses, Trump trophy wives, Real Housewives and more — that marrying a rich man is a crowning achievement. And, to be sure, she is marrying into unimaginable privilege; the British royal family is said to be worth $88 billion, according to Forbes. Prince Harry himself is worth as much as $40 million.
She’s still subject to a culture that has glorifies the princess fantasy — the idea that a man, ideally one who is good and rich, is how a woman completes her life.
But Markle many achievements and considerable accomplishments before adding HRH to her name came not with the bippity-boppity-boo of a fairy godmother’s wand, but through hard work (and a bit of luck).
While Markle’s multi-faceted accomplishments are a credit to Prince Harry’s taste, it feels worrisome that her independent identity is so unprecedented within his family. Even in recent times, women who marry into the British royal family are expected to be two things: Beautiful and quiet.
Harry’s mother, Diana, married at 20 years old, unprepared for the immense pressures of being thrust into the public eye. She smiled for the cameras, but suffered through mental illness in silence. Only as her marriage unraveled and ended in divorce did Diana find her voice; she lent her star power to charitable causes — some of which were groundbreaking at the time — and broke protocol by speaking about her mistreatment by her husband’s family. Tragically, Diana passed away at only 36, when it seemed like she was only getting started.
Meghan Markle will be all the more unusual, though, for breaking ground as a new kind of princess: One who built a legacy for herself long before she became a prince’s wife.
Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, also became initiated into royal life while young, as she met Prince William during college. She, too, has been discreetly quiet during their nine years of dating and seven years of marriage. Little is known about her opinions, her beliefs or even her personality.
So the United Kingdom will gain a member of the royal family who is already unusual: American, divorced, 36 years old and biracial. Meghan Markle will be all the more unusual, though, for breaking ground as a new kind of princess: One who built a legacy for herself long before she became a prince’s wife.
One hopes that in the glare of the media spotlight, she’ll rewrite the rule that royal wives are beautiful and quiet. And even if she doesn’t, she has already turned the princess fantasy on its head by showing the world the kind of woman that a modern prince really wants to marry. Because even Markle never met the sixth in line to the British throne on a blind date, she still would have lived a life many of us would envy.
Jessica Wakeman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She has written for Glamour, Bust, Rolling Stone, Nymag.com The Cut and numerous other publications.