What does a princess look like? And why companies should care.
As the world reels from Oprah’s interview with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex last week, many of us are both grossed out and unsurprised. “The Institution” — as Meghan Markle calls the English Monarchy, was invented to keep white pedigree intact. If this isn’t the “one drop rule” in action, I don’t know what is — in Western culture, pedigree is more important than anything else to be considered part of the elite. It doesn’t matter how well you dress, if you’re talented, how much money you have, if you’re famous, or if you’re easy on the eyes — nothing matters if you’re not part of the “pure” few.
Anyone who’s ever thought about “cleaning” up their look to be taken more seriously at work can understand this. Have you felt pressure to straighten your hair? Bleach your sunspots? Shave your beard? Whiten your teeth? As someone who’s admittedly vain, I confess I enjoy a bit of preening. And maybe you enjoy polishing your look as much as I do. But there’s a huge gap between caring for one’s appearance and feeling pressured to be not you. And when the pressure isn’t just about an outfit or a hairstyle and is about your very bodily tissue and family history… that pressure is an emotional prison I don’t wish on anyone.
If talking royalty seems far away from healthy work cultures, consider this — companies should care because being ourselves at work goes way beyond permission to wear sweatpants while working from home. If I see one more article about the future of work in reference to attire, lighting for zoom calls, or how it’s OK to take a vacation, I might explode. Meghan is the perfect example of how you can look perfect and still be utterly alienated by the very brand you’re supposed to be promoting. Executives should spend time seeing people, developing talent, and honoring contributions, not fretting over surface-level expectations.
Why would companies everywhere do well to heed Meghan’s bravery? In short, business as usual is the enemy of true innovation. Frankly, executives can’t have it both ways — you can’t preserve the status quo and expect to be a leader that others look up to.
I’m not saying to let yourself go — of course appearance matters. Meghan Markle is a darling of little girls everywhere because she’s played the princess role to perfection. No ugly duckling, Anne-Hathaway-Princess-Diary transformation here! Meghan’s been a gorgeous, poised, brilliant woman with unmistakable leadership qualities from day one. Let’s not pretend that looking like a Hollywood princess didn’t facilitate her acceptance by the public. Politics are as much about optics as Hollywood, but with fewer (public) sex scenes and even more money. Regardless, they both run on theatrics.
Cartoon princesses are a motley crew of fun archetypes, each expressing something different. We have a warrior who vanquishes, a ragamuffin with magical delusions, a politician with Daddy issues, a co-dependent who’d rather take care of others than have a life of her own, and many more… (extra credit: can you guess who’s who?)
What’s Ms. Markle’s archetype? Since she’s not a cartoon character, I’m going to refrain from categorizing her in 4 words. She’s a complex woman in her own right, and I’m really excited to see how she authors her own bold heroine’s journey. Tiara’s off to Ms. Markle.