celebrity

Last month, we apologised to Britney Spears. Now the same thing is happening to Meghan Markle.

This post deals with mental health and might be triggering for some readers.

The brutal world of tabloid media and paparazzi was laid bare just last month, with the release of New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears.

The documentary probes the circumstances and details of Britney's 13-year legal conservatorship, giving her father the power to make medical and financial decisions for her. But before it gets to this, Framing Britney Spears offers up some wider context by looking at how Britney was treated since becoming a household name as a teenager.

It's not good.

Watch: Prince Harry reflects on Meghan Markle's mental health. Post continues below video.


Video via CBS.

At multiple points, we see interviewers ask inappropriate questions. This begins when she's only 10, when the host of a talent show asks if she has a boyfriend and inquires if he could be one.

When she was 17-years-old, an interviewer made a statement about her breasts.

At 21, she was asked at a press conference about her virginity.

In 2003, Diane Sawyer told her she'd upset parents by being a 'bad example', reading a quote from the wife of a US governor, who said if given the chance she'd shoot Britney.

A magazine editor told us how sales skyrocketed when unflattering photos of Britney and other female stars were on the cover.

Image: Getty. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The documentary also showed us how uncomfortable Britney was with it all. She cried as paparazzi swarmed her car and grimaced at awkward interview questions. 

She used her voice. She told us she was having a hard time. She asked if she could be left alone. 

No one listened to her. In fact, the narrative was spun so much, everyone believed Britney was in it for the attention. 

The response to the documentary was that of outrage and embarrassment. How could we sit by and let a young woman be treated like that? Why did we not see anything wrong with it at the time? Were we all part of the problem?

We apologised and raised the names of other women who were treated badly, demanding better from media. Comments on media posts cried '#FreeBritney'. Even the Facebook audience of various tabloid media sites, which unfortunately I trawled for this article, were mostly now in Team Free Brit.

But has much really changed?

Image: CBS. 

Among the names of the women owed apologies was, obviously, Meghan Markle.

There is surely no other person who has bared the brunt of tabloids and oversaturation more in recent times than her, whose every move is scrutinised and criticised by literally dozens of headlines a day.

ADVERTISEMENT

By comparison, her husband Prince Harry, who has also left and criticised the British royal family, is named in a small fraction. Make no mistake, this is a gendered issue. Men simply do not face this level of invasion (*cough* not even Prince Andrew, the royal who most deserves far more headlines).

Analysis from Twitter shows how in a single 24 hours in early March, four British tabloids wrote 128 articles (almost all negative and accusatory) about Meghan. At that pace, that adds up to more than 47,000 articles a year - in just one segment of the media in one country.

Then, the comments on these stories from a segment of the public, both on the tabloid websites and Facebook, are nothing short of horrifying.

Unlike Britney, Meghan is not being chased down the street by paparazzi (though, if she and Harry left their Californian home more often, they probably would) or being asked about her virginity, but media has progressed. 

If anything, it's become more dangerous and pervasive.

Who needs a poorly angled paparazzi photo when you can instead write a feature article about the ethical issues of avocados - but only because they're Meghan's favourite food.

Image: Twitter. 

ADVERTISEMENT

She was ridiculed for announcing her pregnancy publicly. She was also ridiculed for writing about her miscarriage. When pregnant with Archie, she was attacked relentlessly for cradling her bump. Then when he was born, opinion pieces and commentators criticised the way she held him.

All the while, fueling the public's hate for a woman they didn't know beyond the negative headlines.

There's also the added layer of race, with Meghan facing forms of abuse Britney and others in similar positions, like sister-in-law Kate and mother-in-law Diana, never did just because she is biracial.

Like Britney, Meghan's been telling us this isn't okay for years.

Her words are heard, then ignored or disputed. She's gaslit by millions of strangers.

Even her admission, during her and Prince Harry's Oprah interview, of mental health struggles and suicide ideation were doubted by parts of media and then members of the public.

For Britney, all this negative attention lead to her now infamous struggles of 2007 and 2008 (which were then also ridiculed) and a 13-year conservatorship.

Caroline Flack ended her life. Jameela Jamil said she came close to doing the same. Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton became the butt of every joke. Taylor Swift disappeared from public life for a year.

What is the tabloids' desired endgame for Meghan?

In a decade's time, when there's a 'Framing Meghan Markle'-style documentary about this time in her life, people will be just as outraged as they were for Britney.

But that's the problem. We've seen this happen so many times before.

We shouldn't need hindsight anymore.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature image: Getty.