This story originally appeared in our September 2013 issue.
You can know some things about Meghan Markle just by looking at her. Namely, that she’s beautiful. Although she would never admit it, she has been known to short-circuit the brains of otherwise articulate interviewers. Like a Medusa, if that weren’t such an insulting simile. Still, she’s beautiful, undeniably so, in an almost, but not quite, atypical way. One wouldn’t describe her as quirky, or ethereal, or alien or any other vaguely condescending adjective used by some to describe women who are decidedly not “next-door.” Basically, what I mean is: she has freckles. But those freckles… damn.
Meghan Markle — Meg to her friends and old boyfriends, Nutmeg to her Suits costars — is problematic to the admittedly tiny feminist in me. (Hey, just because I ogle doesn’t mean I ogle disrespectfully.) Actually, maybe problematic isn’t the right word. Call her instead an Interesting Case Study.
It’s not new, or terribly original as far as celebrity narratives are concerned, for beautiful actresses or models to claim that they weren’t beautiful growing up. While it’s probably true—puberty can be a real bitch, er, I mean, hardship—it also makes these impossibly attractive women more down to earth.
But, Meghan is a little different. Yes, she claims to have been awkward growing up, but she also mentions something else. We are talking about her doing theatre in an all-girls Catholic school, and how her school would pair up with a all-boys Catholic school for plays in order to avoid any gender confusion. And yes, I’m implying that those repressed Catholic boys must be thanking their holy Jesuits that they got to act alongside a young Meghan Markle in a school girl uniform. (Feminism!!)
“In middle school and high school, there was this huge span of my life where I was just the girl with the crazy curly hair, a big gap between my teeth, with skinny legs,” she says, though I’m still unconvinced. “I was always the smart one. My self-identification was wrapped up in being the smart one, so it’s funny to think that anyone would say, ‘I used to date her then,’ with any pride.
“It’s so funny,” she continues. “When I look in the mirror, I just see a big face of freckles. And I love my freckles. But that perception that people see of me… is so foreign and weird to me. I’m just Meg, you know?”
That “smart one” comment could possibly seem disingenuous if her history didn’t seem to bear it out. Before she started playing hardworking paralegal Rachel Zane on suits, before she decided to act and model full time, Meghan planned on working in politics. She had a job at the US embassy in Buenos Aires. “And when I did make the leap and start auditioning,” she says, “it was a huge departure from literally being in a motorcade with our Secretary of Treasury to going in and auditioning for a girl who says, ‘Hi.’ Humbling.”
Which brings us to the crux of my feminist problem—and really, it is my problem. I want to say, hey— shouldn’t you have stayed in politics? Shouldn’t you have kept being the smart one? Instead of being Hot Girl #2 (which was a part she did indeed play). Don’t the corridors of power deserve to have a beautiful kickass… whatever you’d be?
But that’s silly, of course. And wrong-headed and cynical. Because, who am I to say what’s more important, or more rewarding? If anything, it’s nice to know that a strong, smart female character is played by an actress that, frankly, isn’t at all different.
And then, yes, another part of me just tells me to shut up and look at those freckles.