March 1, 2021
Last night, actor Emma Corrin won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Lady Diana Spencer in Netflix’s The Crown. In her acceptance speech, the 25-year-old offered a tribute to the woman who inspired the role: “Most of all, thank you so much to Diana. You have taught me compassion and empathy beyond any measure that I could ever imagine. On behalf of everyone who remembers you so fondly and passionately in our hearts, thank you.”
Indeed, the last year has seen something of a Lady Diana renaissance. Young Diana was a central character in The Crown’s fourth season, which showed her journey from smitten teenager to embittered young mother. This fall, Kristen Stewart will take Diana to the screen in Spencer, an upcoming film which focuses on the weekend in 1991 when she finally decides to end her marriage. Off-screen, the public is re-examining the role the media played in stoking gossip, stigmatizing mental health struggles, and fueling body dysmorphia for generations of young women, Diana included. It’s the same dissection of private life that led Diana’s son Harry and his wife Meghan Markle to step back from their royal duties and relocate to Southern California last year.
But arguably, Lady Diana never faded from popular imagination. For years, a generation of Brown women held her legacy close and refer to the princess with a fondness not even allotted to their most beloved family members. While the rest of the world admired Diana as a style icon, many women regarded her as a sister in solidarity. In Lady Diana’s life, they felt echoes of their own experiences: arranged marriages that prioritized lineages over love, and domineering in-laws who hawked tradition and thwarted individuality.
Like Diana, many of these women sacrificed their whimsies at the altar of marriage, aligning their identities with the obligations of wife and mother. And like Diana — who famously broke from Anglican Church precedent and did not promise to “obey” her husband in their wedding vows — they, too, sought small acts of rebellion wherever they could muster them. Diana’s influence on these Brown women extended beyond their sartorial choices, a penchant for “Diana boy cut” hair, and a desire to take up the teaching profession. They admired Diana’s vulnerability in disclosing her postpartum depression, her quest to leave an indelible mark on the world. The South Asian women who came of age in the 1980s alongside Diana viewed her as both a contemporary and a cautionary tale.