Are we in 2018? Or are we actually in a parallel universe in Gilead right now?
Meghan Markle attended the British Fashion Awards on Monday night.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the photos. They were everywhere, images of the Duchess of Sussex, glowing and ebullient, in black velvet Givenchy cradling her baby bump as she awarded Claire Waight Keller, the designer of her wedding dress, with the award for British Designer of the Year.
As is so often the case where Meghan is concerned, all eyes were on her. And as is so disappointingly often the case, not all of those eyes were positive. After images of Meghan were circulated on social media, some commentators stepped forward to criticise the cut of Meghan’s gown, the fact that it exposed - here, picture them clutching their pearls - her shoulders, and that she wore vampy, dark nail polish to complete the look.
“She looks amazing, and if she was a film star I absolutely applaud her,” etiquette expert Liz Brewer said on Channel 5.
“However, she is a new member of the royal family… the thing about the one shoulder, you and I, I like wearing one shoulder,” she continued. “But you’re supposed to look a little bit more demure [in the royal family]… She looks wonderful. But if you’ve been advised to do something, at this stage, I think it’s better if she went a bit slower.”
Brewer also took umbrage with that sinfully dark nail polish, which she said goes against royal etiquette. (This, even though Kate Middleton wears dark nail polish on the regular.)
“She’s a new member and a controversial member,” Brewer went on to say. “She’s got a family who’s causing an awful lot of trouble. And therefore, I think if I was in her shoes, but I’m not, I think I would be more careful.”
But it wasn’t just the vampy nail polish and the wanton display of flesh encasing her armpit socket that had commentators incensed. People on social media also called into question Meghan’s desire to brazenly cradle her baby bump in the manner of, well, in the manner of a pregnant woman.
Another wrote: “Seriously no pregnant woman poses for photo like this. Ever. She’s such an actress.” Added someone else on Twitter “She could learn from Kate on how to pose regally when pregnant. Both hands discreetly under the bump. Not cradling like Demi Moore.” (They also used the hashtag #crasspregnancy. It may surprise you to learn that there are no results under that hashtag, because crass pregnancy is not a thing.)
Added one more Twitter user: “Yes, all that baby bump-overdoing thing is tiring… Why can’t she just stand normal, in particular at official occasions? She is just constantly showing off and this is really disgusting and repelling…”
I am loath to give airtime to this nonsense, but let’s quickly dispel some of these myths: It is not against royal etiquette to wear dark nail polish. Kate wears dark nail polish all the time. It is not against royal etiquette to wear one-shouldered gowns. Once again, Kate has worn a one-shouldered gown, as have the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and, oh you know, just a minor royal called The Queen.
It’s also not against royal or human woman etiquette to cradle your baby bump, especially in a loud public space, where thousands of people are cheering and taking photos of you, to soothe the baby inside you from all that noise.
But we shouldn’t have to defend Meghan Markle or flaunt all the receipts, because there’s nothing to defend her from here in the first place. The underlying problem, as it always has been with Meghan, is that the way many people perceive her is indelibly marked by her identity as a biracial woman.
Meghan is black, beautiful and pregnant. The baby she is carrying, the future Prince or Princess of England, is going to be a biracial baby. But as writer Bolu Babalola argued, the image of a beautiful, pregnant, joyful, “hyper-visible” black woman is threatening to some people.
Meghan isn’t doing or wearing or behaving in a way that no-one in the royal family hasn’t done or worn or behaved like before. She’s not breaking any rules. She’s not even nudging at them, pushing them a little bit.
And yet people are holding her accountable for grievous errors of respectability as if we are living in some parallel universe Gilead and Meghan just whipped off her cloak and burnt it in front of the Commander.
If someone finds fault with Meghan for doing something that Kate, Diana, Beatrice, Eugenie, Sophie Wessex and even the Queen have done before her, then I think that says more about them than it does about Meghan.