Kate Middleton’s pregnancy was never going to be ordinary, but its inauspicious start was particularly remarkable. There was the rushed announcement when she was hospitalized in December. Her mysterious illness. That terrible ordeal of the Australian prank callers and her nurse’s subsequent death. The bed rest. Her relegation to Kensington Palace, where her uterus could be attended to by the Queen’s very own “gynecological specialists.”
All of these dramatic turns had one ironic result: They allowed Kate to act ordinary for the first time since her engagement to Prince William. Her pregnancy excused her from all princess duties, and gave her a window of time in which she could do whatever she wanted. She could buy cookies, window-shop, wear ponchos in public, and go for walks in the park. Since her path to royalty began, she has never made so many non-official, public outings at the rate she has in the past few months.
Kate’s sudden ubiquity in London’s most highly trafficked areas can be easily explained. First of all, she’s living in London for the first time in years, grounded there for medical reasons. She’s probably also bored, and doesn’t want to stay cooped up in the palace all day with her in-laws. And it seems that she actually enjoys these kinds of activities. She has popped up in surprising places like Topshop and the grocery store in the past, and earned “down to earth” points for doing so.
But what’s particularly interesting about Kate’s new “normal” is that her pregnancy basically grants her temporary immunity from public reproach, particularly since she had a difficult first trimester. It’s a commonly held opinion pregnancy is a time to let it all hang out, for your own sake as well as the unborn child’s. If she wants to go to Starbucks, then let ‘er go. If she wants to spend hours browsing jeggings at the Gap, then by all means! She actually doesn’t have anything better to do, because she’s supposed to be relaxing. In many ways, pregnancy freed her.
Of course, Kate’s “common” activities are far easier to swallow than if she were playing the diva card. Her “just like us” relatability is a big part of her appeal; everyone fawns over cute pictures of her in funny outfits at college parties, and her penchant for wearing mainstream, affordable clothing is widely praised. Her recent outings are perhaps just a continuation on this theme, although it seems doubtful that they’re motivated by publicity, considering how genuinely surprised witnesses seem to be when they encounter her in the dressing room at Selfridges.
While some might say Kate risks looking too Britney Spears when she tootles around with a coffee in her hand, her ability to walk among the terrestrial (unlike some members of the royal family, who can’t even operate train turnstiles) is a good thing. We may like to exhalt our celebrities, but we still want them within reach. What’s more entertaining than beautiful, famous people doing mundane things?
A few weeks ago, Hilary Mantel infamously wrote that Kate’s burden is to be seen as a collection of body parts — “a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished.” Today, she defended her essay, reiterating to the BBC that her intention was to point out how Kate is objectified by the public, not to speak ill of her as a human. Indeed, she believes Kate to be an “intelligent young woman.”
Mantel is right, but in many ways it doesn’t matter — Kate has not only been objectified by the world at large, but also by the very institution that she’s part of. The royal family depends on her idealized image for their own survival, and not just in the procreative sense: They currently justify their existence by using their fame and wealth for charitable and patriotic purposes. Kate’s popularity as a symbolic figure is therefore more meaningful than ever. The modern monarchy’s existential threat isn’t the risk of a barren princess — it’s the risk that the public grows tired of them, and abandons them entirely.
Just as Mantel predicted, the public has fawned over Kate’s totally normal, growing belly, and when she resumed her charitable duties this week, every word and action was scrutinized. When Kate was given a stuffed bear and responded, “Thank you, I’ll give that to my d—” before she stopped herself, the world decided that she’s having a girl. And thus we see the line that Kate can’t cross: No matter how normal she acts, she’s an international celebrity. She utters one ambiguous sentence, and the world flips out about it.
But just how much more everyone will flip out when the d— … er, baby is actually born. When Kate becomes a mom, her maternal identity will be constantly evaluated, and her child will be carefully watched. There’s a chance that these next four months of pregnancy will be the most normal ones in Kate’s foreseeable future. Hopefully she’ll enjoy them.