If you haven’t watched the new documentary on Princess Diana yet, I suggest that you do so in the privacy of your own home, with a giant box of tissues, and probably some kind of chocolate. Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy is an emotional, heart-wrenching 75-minute film that commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Princess’s death, told from the perspective of her two sons, Princes William and Harry.
I’ve been obsessed with Princess Diana for as long as I can remember, clipping out pictures of her from magazines and watching with horror as the car crash that changed the world unfolded before my eyes. Then, like many girls of my generation, I had a massive crush on Prince William throughout my preteen years.
Now, through this documentary, the world is being granted a much more intimate look at the beloved princess and shedding light on one surprising thing that Princess Diana had in common with so many mothers like myself: Even she, the most photographed woman of her time, was rarely photographed in family photos.
The documentary opens with the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry going through some of their mother’s personal photo albums, featuring images not previously released to the public because they were taken at home. The two brothers smile fondly over the pictures that their mother snapped, reminiscing over how much she loved taking photographs.
Then, William says something that will resonate with moms around the world: “The funny thing is, there’s not that many of her … because she [was] always taking photographs.”
“Yeah,” Harry agrees. “And it’s photos of us from when we were tiny … from day one.”
How many mothers can relate to this? From the moment our children are born or join our families, many of us take on the official role of Family Photographer. Maybe we want to capture all the precious memories of our children, their tiny bodies, those fleeting expressions, the irresistible chubby toddler feet. Or maybe we feel a sense of pressure and obligation to keep up the reel of family memories. Because without us, would we have a record of our family? Without us, we worry, those memories will fade away forever.
We take the photos, even if we can’t be in the photos, because we want to show our love.
Princess Diana obviously had thousands of pictures taken of her and yet, how ironic is it that even she, a woman who spent most of her life being photographed, had so few family photos of her and boys at home? It’s doubly sad when you think about how treasured those few photos are now, 20 years after her death, to her children.
Of course, one could argue that as the world’s most photographed woman, maybe she just wanted a break from being in front of the camera. There is something to be said for simply living in the moment instead of worrying about it being photographed. But it’s undeniable that sometimes, photos are all we are left with.
Sometimes it feels as though we want mothers to exist for others — the pretty, stylized picture for Instagram, the professional photo shoot where our stretch marks can be edited out, the glossy magazines of our idols — instead of relishing the real moments; the exhausted new mom, the hair unkempt, the raw and unfiltered photos that someday we will look back on and be so glad we have. We are so quick to overlook mothers in the ordinary moments, even when it’s those very moments that are the most extraordinary.
One of the most sobering parts of the documentary is seeing footage of Princess Diana just trying to walk through a building — surrounded by dozens of photographers — unable to take a single step without bumping into them and re-routing her path, trying desperately to block her face with a tennis racket. It’s clear they are trying to photograph Princess Diana without actually seeing her.
The video cuts to William, a touch of anger in his voice as he recounts how terrible things truly were back then. He talks about the intrusiveness of a world that demanded so much of his mother and on a smaller scale, I think it’s similar to how modern-day social media often focuses on an image of a person, rather than the actual person. Because the photos we hope for as mothers, the memories captured of us with our children, are never about the photos themselves; they about being really and truly seen, about being recognized for our role in the family, about seeing ourselves the way our children and partners see us.
That new mother with her baby, the one who feels like her body is literally drooping around her, the one who feels broken and unmoored? Take a picture of her to show her you treasure her.
That mother who is self-conscious of her postpartum weight, the one who tries to hide behind her children in every photo? Take the picture and show her that she truly has nothing to hide.
The mother at the beach, begging you not to get her in the frame, because she hates how she looks in her swimsuit? Take the picture so she can see that the smile on her children’s faces as they jump in the waves with her is all that matters.
Because what it comes down to is this: whether we are a beloved princess or a mother beloved by only our children at home, we deserve to be seen, too.