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There’s something about the lives of celebrities that fascinates us. It’s why actors and athletes rack up millions of Instagram followers, and tabloid magazines are full of images of celebrities on vacation. Celebrity breakups and marriages are hot topics on Twitter and prime time for people to voice their opinions on these people that they do not know. People love to discuss the physical appearances of celebrities, what kind of person they think they are and critique the relationships they get in.

What can be said on social media is mostly speculation and assumptions, but the effect that it has on reputations and mental health is harmful. It draws questions of how much privacy a celebrity is entitled to and whether or not they have a right to be upset when hurtful words are said about them. Do celebrities deserve the same privacy and respect as “normal” people like us? Do they lose the right to anonymity when they enter the spotlight?

Meghan Markle has been in show business for much of her life. She received attention for her role on the television show “Suits” and her lifestyle blog “The Tig.” That attention was nothing compared to the media firestorm when it was announced that she was in a relationship with Prince Harry. This announcement and the following marriage between Meghan and Harry created a stir in the media because she was nothing like the rest of the traditional royal family. For one, she was an American actress. She was also politically outspoken, which is something forbidden for royals. Meghan Markle is also a woman of mixed race. Her father is white, and her mother is Black.

Everything about Meghan was unconventional. As a result, the press had a field day. Rumors spread of “ghastly rows” between Meghan and Harry’s family and of her bullying staff members, all of which are un-sourced. There were harsh critiques of Meghan’s physical appearance and assertions that she did not deserve to be part of the Royal Family. In 2019, Meghan sued “The Mail on Sunday” for publishing a private letter between her and her estranged father. Meghan and Harry also sued “Splash UK” for taking pictures of their son without permission and publishing them.

The harassment from the media has resulted in the couple stepping down from the Royal Family and moving to California. Prince Harry cited a desire for privacy and to get his wife and son out of a toxic environment as reasons for leaving. In the time since stepping down, the couple has started a non-profit foundation called Archewell, signed a Netflix deal and appeared in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Critics of the Sussex family often ask why Meghan and Harry have continued to engage with the public if they supposedly desire privacy. They believe that an Oprah interview defeats the purpose of stepping down and moving away. In addition, many people believe that Meghan Markle overreacts to these supposed “breaches of privacy.”  

If she does not want to be photographed while out in public or have the media publishing antagonistic stories about her and her family, she should not have become a royal at all. They believe that Meghan is an attention seeker and is even using Harry for fame. According to Meghan’s critics, they have the right to bully and harass her simply because she is a celebrity.

That is not a valid argument.

Think of it this way. Let’s say that you post a picture on Instagram of yourself on the beach wearing a bikini. You consented to that picture being taken, and you personally posted it yourself. Now let’s say that a boy posts a picture of you on his Instagram wearing underwear. You had sent this picture of yourself to him privately and did not give him permission to post this. When you tell him to take it down, he claims that it is no different than you posting a picture of you in a bathing suit.

It actually is very different because of one thing: consent. All of the people that share the picture and spread the word about it are violating your privacy as well. The gossip that they spread about you and the harsh criticisms of your character and your body are cruel and unwarranted. They should not have even seen the picture that they are currently tearing apart and using to judge you.

It is absolutely valid for Meghan Markle and other celebrities to feel angry and violated by pictures on the Internet of them that they do not consent to. Their fame does not give others the right to invade their privacy and to humiliate them for something that they did not even want to happen. Celebrities are just people like us with the same feelings. They are people who just so happened to have a job that required them to be known by a lot of people. There is nothing in the job description of being an actor or an athlete or a musician that says that the right to privacy vanishes once they reach a certain level of fame.

Especially when their children and their families are involved, most people would want to protect themselves and their loved ones from scrutiny and abuse. The media needs to respect the lives of everyone and stop writing rumors and gossip about others in a cheap attempt to make money. They ignore the pain and mental health issues that this causes and the relationships and lives that could be ruined.

In addition to the pain that they cause the subjects of their writing, they are also creating insecurities in the people that read what they write. For example, if a tabloid were to write a story about the weight of an athlete and the shape of her body in an unflattering way, another woman of that body type might feel insecure about her own body because she now believes others find it unattractive.

Meghan Markle is only one example of someone who has been unfairly abused and targeted by the media. Open any celebrity news website and expect to see articles speculating about the private lives of celebrities and passing judgment on their character and appearance. Simply put, it is wrong to talk about any person in such a negative, degrading way when that person has not done anything wrong.

It is wrong that the media profits off of this exploitation of celebrities and their families. There is also a big difference between what a famous person puts out about him/herself on social media or what they release as a part of their job versus what the media digs up and speculates about their private life. They should have control over what they share with the world because, ultimately, it is their life, not ours.

As the world moves towards becoming more inclusive and empathetic, hopefully, the popularity of this type of media will subside. A community that treats its people with respect and dignity no matter who they are is important. A way to step closer to that reality is to recognize when media is invading privacy and being disrespectful. If you would not want it said about yourself or your family, perhaps it is best to refrain from saying it. It is also important to stand up for the character of others when they are being harassed in this way.

Meghan and Harry made a good decision when they chose to step away from the Royal Family and protect their family from media harassment. Essentially, what they wanted was respect. Desiring privacy does not mean that they never wanted to be seen in public or spoken about on the Internet again. What they wanted was to be able to do their jobs without being gossiped about or have unsolicited pictures taken of their son.

They wanted to keep their public life public and their private life private. The media attempted to take that precious private life away from them, and they removed themselves from that toxic environment. All we need to do is respect their wishes and give them the same respect that we want for ourselves. 

Mackenzie Meleski is a passionate writer for Her Campus at VCU. She is currently double majoring in International Studies and Mass Communications. She loves her two cats, Leo and Loki, and her dog, Lucy. You will probably find her online shopping or watching reruns of The Great British Bake Off.