Not since the walls of my childhood bedroom were adorned with massive posters of Legolas and Captain Jack Sparrow, and the quote ‘evil never looked so good’ alongside a printout of the villainous spy Sark from the TV show Alias, have I swooned over someone as much as I currently do over the Duchess of Sussex. Admittedly it is rather more platonic swooning, but it is no less meaningful for it.
I am part Thai-Burmese, part English, with some Irish and Scottish thrown in for good measure. Nobody looked like me where I grew up in East Anglia. I remember kids at school and in the local playground making comments on my skin colour, calling it ‘poo coloured’, being amazed by the fact that the lines on the palm of my hand weren’t pale pink like theirs. I remember the shock to my system when upon moving to London, not everyone was, well, white, because I was so used to being in a minority.
Despite all of this, I had never really thought that much about the importance of representation and seeing people who looked like me in positions of power, taking key roles in books and theatre, being lauded as a standard of beauty. But to quote, another kickass hero I’m swooning over, Awkwafina – “you don’t realise the power of representation until you feel it”.
I started to feel it when I read the excellent young adult book (every adult should regularly read young adult books) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Park, was mixed race like me with an Asian mother and a white father, just trying to quietly fit in.
But the introduction of Meghan Markle to the British royal family marked peak realisation for me. That someone who wasn’t white, wasn’t posh, and possibly inbred, and who had made her own money had joined the ranks of one of the most elite institutions in the world, was a big deal. The concept of a royal family funded by the taxpayer to live a very nice life, is a troublesome one, but damn, Meghan struck a blow for all the non-white women, from non-moneyed backgrounds out there – her marriage said ‘hey you’re all beautiful, charming and you are not anyone’s social inferior’.
The point on looks might seem very superficial, but come on, I challenge you to sit down and name your top 20 most beautiful women in the world and not end up filling that list with a bunch of white Hollywood stars. I certainly couldn’t. Meghan herself, and her work with Vogue to get women of all colours on the cover of the September issue means a lot to someone who isn’t used to seeing people of a similar heritage classed as ‘desirable’. I’ve realised on some level, I’ve always had a bit of a hang-up that guys who have ditched me in the past have done so, because they can’t comprehend being serious about someone who looks so different to what they are used to or to what Hollywood tells them is that perfect leading lady.
It’s not all about looks with Meghan though – my swooning is more than skin deep. I love that she had a career, I love that she’s worked herself up from crappy jobs like being a ‘Deal or No Deal’ suitcase girl, and I especially like that she is trying to help other people up the ladder too with her charity work. How nice to have a hard grafter in the limelight, not some society beauty who hasn’t done much beyond helping at daddy’s company and going on lots of holidays.
One of the things I struggled with when coming to London, was the realisation that while I was seeing more people from BAME backgrounds than I ever did growing up in East Anglia, I rarely saw them in a context of a high powered job. I see them everyone serving people in shops, being the security function in the building my company is based in – I don’t see many of them heading up big companies, taking up a significant portion of seats in parliament or in traditional professions like law. At least back in Suffolk where practically everyone was white, there weren’t many people from a BAME background to pigeonhole into service jobs.
So again, I have so much love for Meghan Markle, and the film Crazy Rich Asians, by the way, for busting the stereotypical mould that sees us associating career success with white people. So I hope the Duchess of Diversity keeps doing her thing and ignoring the haters (who rarely have a good reason for disliking her by the way, I’m stumped by the number of white females who can’t even voice why they don’t like her – I’m assuming it’s the otherness).
Anyway, I’ll try and stop swooning now, it wouldn’t be very British stiff upper lip of me… oh wait…