When Meghan Markle arrived at Windsor Castle on her wedding day with Queen Mary's Bandeau Tiara set atop an unfussy up-do, I was so very hopeful.
How powerful it was to see someone not only of mixed race, but an American, a feminist, a humanitarian, and a smart, ambitious career woman, walking down the aisle to marry her partner, who just so happened to be in the line to the throne. I thought, to reference Bishop Curry's moving sermon, that she might serve as a balm of Gilead for the royals: a cure to the assertion that the monarchy is out of touch and has been for some time.
And for the past 20 months, she did. She shook things up, launching charity initiatives that were well outside the traditional royal playbook like her fashion line, Smart Set, which benefited a women's empowerment organization, and the Together cookbook, which raised funds for the Hubb Community Kitchen.
More simply, as the world watched she stood on balconies, attended garden parties, and went on tours at the request of the Queen; her presence alone in those spaces sent a signal to those who had never seen themselves represented by the royal family before.
It felt like progress.
So last week, when the Sussexes announced their plans to step back from their senior positions in the royal family, it was hard for me to be anything but sad about the whole situation.
Meghan's time as a modern princess has hardly been a fairytale. Yes, the position comes with privilege, but over the course of her relationship with Prince Harry, Meghan has faced racism, sexism, and classism, both in the press and on social media, and the Sussexes clearly felt that they needed to make a radical change for their family. "I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been," Harry wrote last fall in a statement, outlining what he called "a ruthless campaign" by the British tabloids against his wife.
Despite the oft-repeated rumors of rifts between the Sussexes and other members of Harry's family, we'll never know everything that went on behind closed doors, but the Sussexes are choosing their mental health over their duty to the monarchy. I'm just disappointed that they feel they have to.
As the Sussexes "carve out a progressive new role" for themselves, seeking out financial independence, and splitting their time between Canada and the UK, I know Meghan will continue to serve as a role model and to raise awareness about causes that could use a little of her Markle Sparkle.
"With fame comes opportunity, but it also includes responsibility," Meghan said back in 2016 in an interview with the UK edition of Elle, "to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings. And, if I'm lucky enough, to inspire."
For now, she's taking off the glass slipper with plans to focus on herself, her family, and eventually that glass ceiling. But there was something almost magical about Meghan in a tiara, and selfishly, I'm still sad that we might not see that again, at least not for a long time. Her presence signaled that even centuries-old institutions like the royal family could change and adapt, and that the public would embrace it. But if the Sussexes' decision is any indication, we still have a long way to go.
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