I never cared about princesses. When I was a kid, I always chose my Jungle Book VHS over Cinderella and was constantly skipping around my house to songs from The Wizard of Oz rather than ones from Snow White. I didn't dream of living in a castle, wearing big poofy dresses, or marrying a prince. But now, at 29 years old, I care about a princess — or, technically, a person in a princess-like role — more than I ever have. And a big part of that is because this "princess," Meghan Markle, looks like me.
OK, she doesn't look just like me. This isn't the story of a doppelgänger woman who has been hounded by paparazzi now that Markle is set to marry Prince Harry. It's more that she looks like me because we're — as I've had to say so many times in response to that ubiquitous "what are you?" question — half-black and half-white. We have the same skin tone, the texture of our hair is similar. (By the way, Meghan, if you're reading this, how do you style your hair, exactly? I need tips.)
Seeing Markle in the public eye feels like something I've been waiting for my entire life. But it's not just for me. It's for every little girl who needs to see someone like them on the magazines in the checkout line, and for every tween who likes daydreaming about the future, but has trouble picturing themselves as an adult. As the racial makeup of our celebrities continues to diversify, more and more kids won't have to know what the search feels like. The way that, every time I've ever turned on a TV show or watched a movie or read a magazine, I've looked for the tan person. The curly-haired person. The person I feel I can immediately relate to.
I've participated in this search my whole life and found, well, not that many people. It's not that there haven't been any celebrities who looked like me in the spotlight this entire time, but especially when I was a kid, they were harder to find. The most famous was arguably Mariah Carey. I distinctly remember seeing her white mom on Oprah once, and being struck by the fact that her biracial-ness was out there in the open. (I was embarrassed about being mixed in my all black elementary school; I always felt like the fact that I was different could put me on the spot at any moment.) I sometimes compared myself to women who were Latina growing up, whether it was Barbie's friend Teresa or Jennifer Lopez, simply because our complexions were similar. A lot of how you feel about the way you fit into the world is based on comparisons and connections — from playing with dolls to finding celebrated role models in real life — and when there are so few faces in the public eye that look like yours, you feel like you constantly have to seek them out.
Meghan Markle's platform is enormous. She doesn't have to be sought out; she is everywhere. Online you can find out about her outfits, her TV career, her past as an 11-year-old feminist advocate, that time she starred in a Tostitos commercial, and her many instances of "breaking royal protocol" — sometimes simply by wearing her hair a certain way. Beloved reformed "bad boy" Prince Harry has found a wife. Something like that was always going to be a big news story; it's been in the cards since the moment Prince Henry Charles Albert David was born. The fact that she is also biracial is a huge moment for mixed women (and black women, too) — if only because so many feel like, "Yes! One of our own is in the spotlight!"
And Markle's huge platform isn't the same as that of a celebrity who is an actor or singer. When we see her touring Wales with Harry or attending a church service with Queen Elizabeth, we aren't watching someone performing on stage — we're watching her be herself. While we do get to know many celebrities outside of their work — some of them better than others — Markle's role now is only her real life. When someone projects themselves onto her, they're projecting solely onto a real person and her choices.
That's why it's great that Markle is so determined to use her role to make meaningful change in the world. In her joint interview with Prince Harry that took place immediately after their engagement was announced, she was already talking about her plans. "Very early out of the gate, I think you realize once you have access or a voice that people are willing to listen to with that comes a lot of responsibility, which I take seriously," she said. "I'm excited to just really get to know more about the different communities here, smaller organizations we're working on the same causes that I've always been passionate about under this umbrella."
Before she was even attached to the Royal Family, she'd given a speech at the UN Women's Conference on gender equality, and there have been early hints that she's going to continue that fight in an official capacity as a royal. And when it comes to race, she's been open about her background and how it's affected her life experience. In a 2015 essay for Elle, Markle wrote about many situations that mixed people in America experience, from constantly hearing "what are you," to having to check off a race box on school forms, to not feeling "black enough" or "white enough," to eventually becoming "a strong, confident mixed-race woman"... who still might not immediately respond "half-black and half-white" to that question, because you know you're a lot more than that, and they're going to have to be more specific.
While I'm no longer the 10-year-old girl who really could've used a boost in the form of an actor writing about her identity, Markle's words still make me feel seen — and perhaps more importantly, let me know that other people like me are being seen, and that people are seeing us, as well.
I might be confident in my identity now and outspoken about my background in a way my elementary school self could never have imagined, but that doesn't mean I can't still reap the benefits of seeing a fellow mixed girl being outspoken about herself, and in a position where everyone is able to see her and listen to her. It's pretty damn great. I can be inspired by her words about equality and her purposely messy buns. I can see what makeup looks she chooses and know how they would come across on my own skin. I can see her pose for photos with her fiancé and think, "Hey, they look really nice. Maybe my boyfriend and I should take a series of photos while wearing fancy clothes in a garden."
The point is — to use a phrase that's become so common, but needs to keep being said until we actually achieve it — representation matters. It's why Black Panther has made over $1 billion worldwide. It’s why women cried in the theater when they saw Wonder Woman. It’s why seeing Markle in the spotlight makes this biracial woman — who at some point along the way developed a fascination with the royals — feel a sense of pride that seeps deep down to the young girl inside of me.
Markle's engagement to Prince Harry came about at a time that, hopefully, we'll be able to look back on as a turning point. While she isn't someone who was cast in a role (well, not in the usual sense), she's a more than welcome addition to the world of celebrity. I thought I was no longer waiting for a role model who looked like me, but now that she's here I know even more how much I craved it. Now that she's here, it's another sign that future generations won't have to seek out reflections of themselves the same way I did — that someday, the search will be a thing of the past.
Bustle’s Royally Fascinated series is all about owning our obsession with princesses — and exploring why that's an empowering thing.