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Psychology behind Princess Diana's everlasting appeal

Psychology behind Princess Diana's everlasting appeal

International Desk

Decades after her death, the fascination with Princess Diana lives on. She continues to launch fashion trends — like a renewed interest in blue eyeliner and French manicures — and her clothes sell for small fortunes at auction. She is beloved by women the world over. And a 2017 poll found that she's the royal most Skype users (i.e., millennials) would like to interact with, while another named her as "the dead person that Britons would most love to meet, coming second only to Jesus Christ.”

Photos and videos of the Princess of Wales and her humanitarian efforts and fashion were ubiquitous in the 1980s and 1990s before her untimely death in a car accident in Paris in 1997. But why would a new generation of millennials and Gen Z-ers be so fascinated by the royal so many years later?

Media psychologists break down some of the reasons for the enduring love many people — including those who were born years after her death — still have for "the People's Princess." Here's what to know.

The media made Diana larger than life, someone who would live on long after her death

Rebecca Forster, an associate professor specializing in media psychology at Chapman University’s School of Communication, tells Yahoo Life that during her lifetime, Diana was put on a pedestal and transformed into a cultural icon turned tragic heroine, like Marilyn Monroe.

“She was set as a modern-day Disney princess by the media and elevated to [the] status of an icon,” Forster says. And that mythical, larger-than-life image has been able to outlive the flesh-and-blood Diana.

“She became a sort of fictional character that lives her life independently of her actual persona and exercising an outsize impact,” Forster says. “She died young, pretty and vastly popular — all the ingredients needed to retain that celebrity status. She basically had the momentum and the media encouraged that.”

Don Grant, media psychologist and national adviser of healthy device management for Newport Healthcare, tells Yahoo Life that when the media promotes a certain interpretation of a public figure, people tend to believe it. In the case of Diana, while she was alive and in the years after her death, the media pushed an image of her as, among other things, a timeless fashion legend — and a generation later, people are still buying it and look to her as a source of style inspiration.

“The media has a lot of power,” Grant says. “When they talk about Diana, they talk about chic, they talk about stylish, they talk about [being a] fashion icon. So I think that the media has promoted her and made her an urban legend.”

She's still very much present in the media

Decades after her death, Diana is still everywhere, with a new generation being introduced to her through portrayals in TV shows like The Crown, films like Spencer and even a 2021 musical. And during her lifetime, the royal was one of the most photographed women in the world. Now, thanks to the internet, that huge cache of photos and videos is readily available to anyone with a phone or computer — making her image even more accessible than it was during her lifetime.

Grant says part of the public appeal of those images is that she’s “frozen in time, like Marilyn Monroe — someone who never got older, always young, always beautiful.”

Her sons are keeping her memory alive

Grant says many people empathize with the Prince William and Prince Harry, who were young boys when their mother died, and felt for them with the same heartbreak people experienced when a young John F. Kennedy Jr. saluted his father’s casket in 1963.

“When they look at them, they see Princess Diana,” Grant says of the public perception of William and Harry. “And there's a grieving and a loss.”

The public and especially the media are also eager to see Diana live on in her sons, Stephen Bates, former royal correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, tells Time. “William is minutely observed by royal watchers here and in America to see how like his mother he is,” Bates says. "That’s something you get in all families of course, but it has a particular resonance, because people still feel they have a little slice of her in their lives.”

And for their part, William and Harry have made a point of publicly keeping her memory alive. In addition to gifting their wives pieces from her jewelry collection and championing charitable causes she cared about, such as their Heads Together initiative for mental health awareness, they’ve also unveiled a memorial in her honor and frequently share warm memories of her and discuss her in interviews.

She was an 'original influencer'

Before “going viral” was a thing, Diana created some of pop culture’s most “viral” moments — including the infamous “revenge dress," which set off a media frenzy and is still talked about today. She’s still a leader in fashion trends, with Google searches for some of her most famous outfits skyrocketing when they’ve been depicted in The Crown. But Grant says that one of the biggest parts of her influencer appeal — which also endears her to a new generation of social media-savvy, influencer-loving folk — is how refreshingly open and relatable she appeared.

Today, Grant says, we take for granted the fact that many celebrities and influencers are transparent about their feelings and struggles. Diana was one of the first to make that de rigueur.

“I would just throw it out there that Princess Diana was the original influencer,” Grant says. “She was the first celebrity to honestly discuss her mental health, body image, her problems and struggles. … She was the first celebrity who really just laid it all out there.”

He adds: “If someone like a royal — who's beautiful, who has money, property and prestige and seems to have everything — can talk about all the things she talked about, like the isolation, the loneliness, the affair [between then-Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles], this is something I think that a lot of people, especially women, can relate to. And they felt like, 'Oh, my goodness. I'm not alone.'”

The allure of parasocial relationships

The concept of “parasocial relationships” gets brought up a lot with celebrities. It’s a one-sided relationship in which you feel like you know a person you’ve never met because you’re constantly consuming content about them — even content that can feel very intimate and personal. But often the celebrity you might think you know is actually just a character — either the character they play on television or in film, or the public-facing persona they’ve created themselves.

“When there's someone in the media, even though we don't know them, we feel like we do,” Grant says of parasocial relationships. “But with the show Friends, for example, people don't feel like they know Courteney Cox; they feel they know [her character] Monica.”

In the case of Diana, experts say the person a lot of people feel like they know is actually the image created by the media and maintained after her death. “People connect to this image [of Diana] rather than her as a real individual,” Forster says. “In this regard, it does not matter [that] she has passed away. People can maintain meaningful relationships with fictional characters that are no more real than the media construction of a historical figure.”

Nancy Mramor, a clinical, media and health psychologist, tells Yahoo Life that when a beloved public figure dies, it can have a real emotional impact even if you’ve never met them.

“Whenever a person of note dies — like John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, the pope, Martin Luther King Jr. — people recall the loss deeply because of what they represented to them personally and to the world,” Mramor says. “She was an activist for causes close to the hearts of many, so the loss of Diana also represented the loss of progress within those causes.”

But is it really possible to have a parasocial relationship with someone who died before you were even born? Mramor says yes.

“There are so many videos, photos, documentaries and the series The Crown that acquaint people with Diana, that she is literally in your living room like a part of your family,” she says. “That is how parasocial relationships form.”

Source: Yahoo News

 

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