The internet is alive with royal birth announcements, photos, outfit analysis, historical-precedent commentary, speculation about names, jokes about Prince William's hair, and — as ever — adoration/awe directed at Kate Middleton's surreally perfect hair. But when we remember that the freakishly photogenic Duchess of Cambridge is a real person, it's pretty obvious that what Kate Middleton needs right now, as she adds "new mom" to her impressively long resume of female roles, is a break from all the fashion commentary.
On the one hand, this is the royal family, and that's what you get when you marry into it. Kate Middleton will never again be able to leave the house with real bedhead, or stumble red-faced from a club at 4 AM without provoking massive criticism, or experience any of life's milestones in genuine private. That's the price you pay for being a real-life princess, and perhaps it's offset by some of the perks (a Jenny Packman dress for your first post-baby outfit, for example).
On the other hand, when I look at Kate Middleton, I see someone incredibly relatable. Not only is she a commoner (like us!), but she has effectively subsumed any weird personality quirks into her husband's high-profile family — making her just one of a million overly-deferential daughters-in-law. She may be abnormally put-together, but she's no Gaga; her feminine outfits err on the side of simplicity and are easy to copy (grab your nude pumps and a flowy, knee-length dress — done!). She dated a man for years before getting engaged (welcome to the Millennial generation, Kate) and may have gone on a bizarre diet before her wedding. Surely she felt some pressure from her in-laws to conceive, and she wouldn't be the first married woman to feel that way (granted, when your kid is going to be third in line to the throne, the stakes are a little higher). The reason we all love her (and document her every move) is because she's gratifyingly perfect, but at the same time, she's easy to understand.
She looked perfect a mere 24 hours after giving birth, too. Her polka-dotted dress was an homage to Princess Diana, the mother-in-law she never got to meet. She and her husband wore baby blue, the universal color of baby boys. Her hair had been styled by royal hairdresser Amanda Cook Tucker, and her makeup was done. Even the tiny royal was perfectly swaddled, ready for his close-up.
But in every photo, there are reminders that behind the princess glitz, Kate Middleton is first and foremost a woman and a mother. Her very visible, very large post-baby bump was a constant suggestion of the labor she'd just been through. She looked radiant but tired, with lines on her forehead and bags under her eyes. (Doesn't this type of close analysis feel invasive?) She stepped down the hospital stairs with extreme care, wearing her favorite nude wedges — a touching example of how her new-mother concern still has to line up with public expectations. How many women do you know who wore heels home from the hospital?
Watching the video of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leaving the hospital is a very emotional experience. The contrast between the incessant camera flashes and loud cheering (from photographers that had been camped outside for days, no pressure) and the exhaustion in Kate's eyes as she carefully hands the baby to his father is a touching one. Kate Middleton may never have a truly private life again, but what she just experienced is something difficult and special. If we can't give her real peace, let's at least give her our empathy.