Diana Princess of Wales 196197

D iana Frances Mountbatten-Windsor, née Spencer, British philanthropist and ex-wife of Charles, Prince of Wales. She was an outspoken figure in the area of popular dieting culture. Lady Diana Spencer married Charles in 1981, at the age of nineteen. From the beginning, their marriage was under extraordinary pressures being in the media spotlight. The young Diana suffered the pressures of celebrity more than her spouse, as she was not from a court background and had to adapt to life constantly in the spotlight on her own.

She was a member of the upper-class, club scene, called by the media the Sloane Rangers (as they congregated about Sloane Square). They were characterized by their "sportiness" and "anti-intellectualism." There was a great emphasis on slimness for the women, who stressed physical rather than intellectual virtues. Later, Diana announced that she had suffered from bulimia nervosa as a means of explaining her psychological vulnerability during her marriage. She also confessed that she had a number of other stress-induced psychiatric conditions, including potential borderline personality disorder, post-partum depression, and self-mutilation. It is speculated that her abnormal eating patterns began around the time of her marriage, continued through the birth of her two children (William in 1982 and Henry in 1984), and until she sought treatment in the late 1980s. The late 1980s also marked the point when Diana began to gain acceptance by the people on her own terms for her charity work, most prominently with AIDS and landmine organizations. Here, the announcement about her psychological difficulties was part of a campaign to "humanize" her as she negotiated with the Court about her status. By speaking in public about eating disorders, she was able to place herself among the growing number of celebrities who were able to admit "failure," which was less and less seen as stigmatizing.

In 1992, Andrew Morton's confessional book Diana, Her True Story, in which she explicitly spoke to him about her bulimia, was released. In 1993, she spoke on the importance of destigmatizing eating disorders to an international congress. She also talked on television in a famous 1995 BBC interview with Martin Bashir about the problem. She had become a "poster-girl" for beating eating disorders. This position allowed her a moral superiority but was also a means of identification with an increasing number of young women self-aware of their position in the dieting culture. In i997, Diana died in a high-speed car chase trying to escape paparazzi, together with international playboy Dodi Al Fayed, the son of the owner of Harrod's department store in London.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography situates Diana's impact on the perception of bulimia with the following:

Where the life and death of Diana had perhaps their greatest impact was on the acceptability of public displays of emotion . . . Her adoption of the language of psychotherapy, her patronage of the culture of alternative therapies and lifestyle gurus, her confessional approach, all reflected and amplified the move of parts of British society away from the traditional culture of stiff upper lips and repressed emotion.

(Reynolds 2004)

There is, however, controversy over her true impact. Laura Currin's recent study in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that from 1988 until 2000, as the (self-reported) rate of anorexia remained roughly the same, the rate of bulimia went up drastically, which implies to some that more people were seeking help, perhaps because of the destigmatizing effect of the Princess of Wales's public stance on the issue. The rate declined after i997, suggesting to some that people once again were unwilling to come forward.

SLG/Katherine Mancuso

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