In late February of the year 1456, an apprentice named John Helton was drawn, hanged, and quartered for spreading the claim that Edward of Westminster was not Queen Margaret’s son. Queen Margaret, the rumor went, had faked her pregnancy, so the 2-year-old posing as the Prince of Wales must be either a random nonroyal toddler or a changeling.
More than half a millennium later, conspiracy theorists are still preoccupied with the wombs of royal women. Now, the supposed pretender to the pregnancy is Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. Anti-Markle internet sleuths, who call themselves #Megxiteers, have stared at pictures of the expecting duchess so long and hard that they’ve become convinced her baby bump is a prosthetic called a Moonbump—and they hate her for it.
Emma Grey Ellis covers memes, trolls, and other elements of internet culture for WIRED.
Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, has been dogged by similar speculations. British tabloids reported that many women felt Middleton’s pregnancies must have been faked because she looked too good postpartum. The intensity and nastiness of the Markle conspiracy theories most closely mirror the rumors Beyoncé, High Empress of Everything, endured during both her pregnancies. Other celebs, from Khloe Kardashian and Kim Kardashian to Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes, have also been accused of diploid deceptions. The stomach-jiggle is off! Her belly button looks wrong! In every case, real, nonchangeling babies have arrived on schedule, often accompanied by pics.
Part of the persistence of these rumors can be explained away by simple tabloidism paired with the mystery surrounding these women’s lives. Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes both had Scientology swirling about them, and Beyonce is the most private celebrity in decades. In information vacuums, conspiracies thrive; everything becomes suspicious. Outsiders are also highly scrutinized. How dare Markle, a mixed-race Californian, opt not to use her white queen’s appointed royal gynecologists! Proof of scandal, surely.
Less explainable is the judgment and fury behind these claims. For possible illumination, consider the story of Yuan Yuan the panda, who allegedly faked a pregnancy in 2015. Why? Because she wanted to receive Taipei Zoo’s preggers-panda perks: air conditioning and extra food. When conspiracy-minded tweeters look at a “pregnant” celebrity, perhaps they’re seeing Yuan Yuan—an ungrateful she-beast who just wants more. Kim Kardashian truthers were united in their belief that her pregnancy was a ploy to garner attention.
Another explanation: jealousy. In the case of Markle, 75 percent of the disbelieving hordes are women. You can see the hurt most clearly in response to the (rare) instances when celebrities really do fake pregnancies. Justin and Hailey Bieber faced backlash this year after posting April Fool’s Day photos on Instagram that showed Hailey getting an ultrasound and touching her bare stomach. Think pieces about the controversy stressed that women who struggle to conceive find these jokes, evidently somewhat common, painful in the extreme. The Biebers have since apologized.
Ironically, no one would better understand the impossible pressures of getting pregnant than celebrities, our modern-day royals. Mary Tudor—aka Bloody Mary—was said to suffer from pseudocyesis, or false pregnancy induced by desperately wanting to be pregnant. Some even claim that the incredible disappointment of her infertility was what made her so inclined to violence. That’s the darkest of interpretations for why so many people on the internet hate pregnant women: Tell a joyous, expectant mother that she’s not pregnant enough times, and she’ll get as rageful and depressed as they are.
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