6 Fairy Tale Tropes Meghan Markle Has Brilliantly Subverted In 365 Days

Katie O'Malley
·9-min read
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

It’s been exactly a year since Meghan Markle and Prince Harry stepped down as senior royals to write their own fairy tale ending. After all, following years of intense press scrutiny – which the Duke once condemned as ‘bullying’ – rumours of a rift between their families and privacy cases battled out in court, the narrative playing out before them wasn’t exactly prime for the storybooks.

Some viewed their departure from the UK as an abandonment of the royal family, a betrayal of tradition or an act of blind privilege. But for many of us it came as no surprise the pair would hop on a private jet, in lieu of a magic carpet, to flee somewhere where they could build a future free from the confines of duty and expectation.

In leaving, the pair showed that true courage isn’t facing vitriol in solitude, putting on a happy smile at public events and remaining silent. Rather, it’s stepping into the unknown and finding out for yourself what it truly means to be ‘free’. Above anything, the couple proved that bravery is standing up for what is right.

Photo credit: Jeff Spicer/BFC - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jeff Spicer/BFC - Getty Images

Of course, for Markle, fighting for justice isn’t exactly a novel experienced. Let’s not forget that this is a woman who, aged 11, wrote a letter to Procter & Gamble about the sexist language of their advert for dishwasher soap. Someone who has proudly described herself as a feminist, and called out the importance of dismantling toxic, patriarchal systems that subjugate rather than serve the public. For anyone who thought that Markle would hide away in a faraway castle (read ‘Montecito mansion’) in California post-royal life would be sorely mistaken.

Over the past year, Markle has continued to show young women that there’s more to dream of than becoming a princess, that a person doesn’t need to rely on a prince to find salvation and your story is yours to write.

Here, we take a look back at how Meghan Markle has subverted fairy tale tropes over the last 365 days:

1) Sacrifice to find happiness

A quick look through Disney’s fairy tale back catalogue and you’ll soon realise that several of its female protagonists have been expected to lose something important in order to prove themselves as worthy of ‘more’.

The most poignant sacrifice in fairy tales is that of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, who makes a deal with a sea witch to give up her voice in order to spend three days on land with a prince. Markle recently admitted that she’s seen parallels with her experience of feeling ‘silenced’ over the years years and the Disney character’s sacrifice to be with her prince. ‘Everyone in my world was given a very clear directive from the moment the world knew Harry and I were dating to always say “no comment”,’ she recently told Oprah Winfrey of her life as a former senior royal.

On Ariel, and seemingly her own path to finding her autonomy since stepping back as a royal, she later noted: 'But in the end, she gets her voice back.'

Photo credit: Anwar Hussein - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anwar Hussein - Getty Images

Since her move Stateside the 39-year-old has made it her modus operandi to speak publicly about issues close to her heart, whether it’s voting rights ahead of the US presidential election, systematic racism or gender equality.

Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Movement in the weeks after George Floyd’s death last summer, Markle touched on her trepidation of speaking out after years of feeling 'silenced'. ‘I wanted to say the right thing and I was really nervous that I wouldn't or it would get picked apart and I realised the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing because George Floyd's life mattered,’ she said.

2) The good v evil narrative

After almost a year of remaining relatively quiet about the royal family since leaving the UK, Markle and Prince Harry recently opened up about their relationship with ‘The Firm’ during their highly publicised interview with Winfrey.

At one point, Markle spoke about the importance of recognising that not everything is as black and white in life as fairy tales would have us believe, and the cruelty of pitting women – notably her and Kate Middleton - against each other.

Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: WPA Pool - Getty Images

Speaking about the ‘Team Kate’ and ‘Team Meghan’ narrative that has plagued the media over the years, Markle noted: ‘They really seem to want a narrative of a hero and a villain… I think so much of what I have seen play out was this idea of polarity where if you love me you don't have to hate her, and if you love her, you don’t need to hate me.’

Since Markle entered the royal family, the women’s mere presence has drawn controversy, intensifying the media’s polarisation of the pair. So ludicrous is the comparison of the two that it’s now as if to compliment one is to insult the other, to praise one’s comments on an issue is to highlight the other’s silence, and to adore the modernity of one is to critique the other’s traditionalism.

In addressing the double standards of comparing her and the Duchess of Cambridge, Markle reminded us that no character in any narrative – real or fictional – is good or bad, right or wrong. In dividing support for women simply based on their personal choices, whether it's what they wear or what they speak out on, is to do a disservice to the women’s equality movement.

3) Be valiant at the expense of emotion

Bravery and fortitude are qualities often found in the pages of children's books which result in many heroes risking their lives and freedom in the face of danger, without showing a semblance of weaknesses. However, over the last year Markle has shown that there’s strength in being honest and vulnerable.

In November, the Duchess penned an essay for the New York Times in which she revealed she’d miscarried a child last summer – a stark and rare admission of vulnerability for a royal. ‘Sitting in a hospital bed, watching my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine, I realised that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, “Are you OK?”’ she wrote.

Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

Months later, Markle revealed she’d had suicidal thoughts and felt shame on admitting this to her husband. ‘I knew that if I didn't say it that I would do it—and I just didn't want to be alive anymore,’ she said to Winfrey.

In sharing her mental health and pregnancy struggles, Markle has reminded us that heroism isn’t about fearing showing fear. Rather, it's acknowledging that emotions – the good and bad – are human reactions and that exposing your vulnerabilities is a strength to be championed, not a weakness to be shamed.

4) The evil queen

From Snow White to Sleeping Beauty, fairy tales have often involved a demonic queen lurking in a faraway castle and plotting against a princess as a result of their youth, innocence and goodwill. Yet in just a year Markle has shown that real-life queens, such as Her Majesty, don’t live up to the tyrannical, paranoid despot that are written about in children’s books.

Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell - Getty Images

Whether it’s having several Zoom calls with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh or the Monarch recently sending a Christmas present for Archie – a waffle maker, we might add – the 39-year-old has ensured to speak positively about the Queen and highlight that you don’t need to be a b*tch to maintain power and demand respect.

‘The Queen, for example, has always been wonderful to me,’ Markle recently said, adding that she ‘really loved’ being in the royal’s company.

5) A knight in shining armour will save the day

When the royal couple announced their departure from the royal family, many presumed that Markle was the mastermind behind the separation, with some going as far as to dub their move ‘Megxit’.

Earlier this year, however, Markle noted that it was husband who made the decision to distance his wife and child from 'The Firm'. ‘He ultimately called it,’ she revealed to Winfrey. ‘He made a decision that saved my life and saved all of us. But you need to want to be saved.’ Her husband later noted that Markle also helped him after he became ‘trapped’ in the royal family, stating: ‘Without question she saved me.’

Photo credit: Samir Hussein - Getty Images
Photo credit: Samir Hussein - Getty Images

Contrary to many women in fairy tales, Markle was no damsel in distress in need of rescue. Rather, in distancing themselves from the royal family she and the Duke Sussex prevailed because they made their decision to save each other.

6) The happy ending

Since leaving the royal family, the Sussexes have regularly shown the world that life as a royal is ‘not a fairy tale’ (to reference the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson’s words from her 1996 with Winfrey.) From allegedly being cut off financially from the royal family and Archie not being granted a royal title, to alleged racism (claims which the royal family deemed 'concerning') and the stripping of royal protection despite being heirs to the throne, the couple haven’t been afraid to explain that the image of royalty is just that – a perception. ‘It’s easy to have an image of it that is so far from reality,’ Markle recently said of her former senior royal life.

Over the last year, Markle and her husband have shown that there’s no one happy ending to their story. In stepping away from the royal family and speaking honestly about their experiences (resulting in what appear to be tensions between the Sussexes and other royals), the image of their happy family is certainly a far cry from that of their smiles on the couple’s wedding day in 2018.

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However, with a new life in the US, several career opportunities and a second child on the way, the pair are seemingly intent on writing their own narrative. Since stepping away from the royal family, Markle has even gone as far as stating that life is now ‘greater than any fairy tale’. Why? Because it’s theirs for the making. For the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the last year hasn't been the end of their story – it's just the beginning.

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