Meghan Markle says she was treated like a ‘bimbo’ while working on the game show Deal or No Deal. She was looking back at her time working as a “briefcase girl” on the show and said that she and others were objectified, given tanning vouchers, and told to suck their stomachs in.
Videos by Rare
“There was a very cookie-cutter idea of precisely what we should look like,” Markle said.
Meghan Markle Was Giving a Personal Example of Being Labeled as a Stereotype
The Duchess of Sussex was one of 26 women standing on stage for the US version of the gameshow, hosted by Howie Mandel and aired on NBC. She worked for the show from 2006 to 2007 and was on a total of 34 episodes in the midst of a growing acting career.
“I had studied acting in college, at Northwestern University,” she said in the introduction of her podcast episode. “And, like a lot of the other women standing on stage with me, acting was what I was pursuing. So, while Deal or No Deal wasn’t about acting, I was still really grateful as an auditioning actress to have a job that could pay my bills.”
But she’d also studied international relations while in college. “There were times when I was on-set at Deal or No Deal and thinking back to my time working as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina in Buenos Aires. And being in the motorcade with the Secretary of Treasury at the time and being valued for something specifically for my brain.” Contrasting the two jobs, she said the game show made her feel “not smart.”
Context: Meghan Markle Was Introducing a Larger Conversation
On her latest podcast, Archetypes, she spoke with Paris Hilton, comedian Iliza Schlesinger, and New Yorker staff writer Claire Malone. The women reminisced on cultural and personal experiences about female objectification, particularly regarding the labels of ‘bimbo’ and ‘dumb blonde’.
The Archetypes podcast aims to “investigate, dissect, and subvert, the labels that try to hold women back.” Meghan Markle has interviewed women around the world including Serena Williams, Margaret Cho, and Mariah Carey. Other labels that have been discussed include “crazy” and “diva.”’
Claire Malone, who also has a podcast called Just Like Us: The Tabloids that Changed America, gave a succinct explanation of “bimbo.”
“The word bimbo.’ It’s a word that is used to cut down a beautiful woman,” she said. “To kind of say, ‘Well, she’s beautiful, but maybe she’s slutty. Or maybe she’s silly or stupid.”
Paris Hilton and the Bimbo Stereotype
Paris Hilton was brought in because of the unique, arching storyline of her life in relation to being labeled as a “dumb blonde.” The label was imposed on her and then she ran with it, building herself a Barbie-esque empire. But then she took her power back and has been rebranding herself as a woman of power, a philanthropist, and a spokesperson for abused children.
Interestingly, her natural voice is actually much lower than she lets on. And she’s sharper than she is made out to be.
Admitting that she actually grew up as a tomboy (her parents didn’t let her wear makeup or even attend school dances when she was young, growing up in LA), it was when she moved to the Waldorf Astoria in New York City as a 15-year-old that everything started to change. Attributing the dumb blonde stereotype to the fact that publications such as Page Six were writing about her almost daily, she found herself suddenly referred to as a privileged, rich, socialite.
Paris was “famous for being famous,” as they say.
After that, Paris’ life was practically turned upside-down. Her parents sent her to boarding school, where she was sexually, psychologically abused. She has recently come out about her experience, notably in documentary that was published as part of a larger exposé published by The New York Times.
While in boarding school, at a place that placed emphasis on emotional wellness, she was often told she was “worthless” and “would never be anything in life.” She was cut off from the outside world and sexually abused, woken up in the middle of the night to have “cervical exams” performed on her by male staff members.
Asked if the extreme abuse and labels of “worthless” imposed on her had an effect on her self-image, Paris told Markle, ”I tried to not pay attention to any of that. But you know, it’s obviously going to affect you even if you say it doesn’t.”
Paris was in similar programs for 2 years.
“Going to these places and running away and just being so terrified of people and trusting anybody,” said Paris. “And it really took away my childhood. It just made me feel like they tried to take the light away from me. And the only thing that kept me going in there was just thinking about who I wanted to be and what I wanted to become when I got out of there.”
Eventually, Paris built up defense mechanisms to deal with the trauma of not just boarding school, but the “vicious and cruel” treatment that she had and would later continue to receive from the media. As a teenager, that defense mechanism included building an imaginary “Barbie” characterization of herself to numb the pain. Her voice and speech patterns changed as well.
“I just always felt that Barbie had this perfect life. She’s beautiful, she’s always happy, she had her pink Ferrari and her Barbie mansion and her little puppies and all the coolest clothes and shoes…“I almost got stuck and lost in the character. It’s like I forgot who I was.”
She had a lot of dreams, from singing to acting to model. She wanted to do everything. And she told herself, “I’m so strong and if I could make it through this then I could make it through anything.”
“I think what really affected me was… when I got sent away to boarding school…the staff there were so abusive and just the things that they would say to me on a daily basis just really made me just want to prove them wrong,” said Paris.
The Simple Life: How Reality TV Was Built on Stereotypes
Soon after, when Paris was in her early 20s, she and her best friend Nicole Richie ended up starring in the first reality TV series, The Simple Life. The show ran for 54 episodes from 2003 to 2007. In the show, Nicole was supposed to play the “troublemaker,” and Paris was supposed to be the “dumb blonde,” Paris said.
“During that time, it was encouraged… It was cute to be dumb and bubbly, that kind of ‘blonde’ thing,” Paris said. “I look at it now and I think it’s so much cooler to be smart and intelligent.”
The Simple Life featured Paris and Nicole doing “normal people things,” for lack of a better term. They would perform manual labor, work on farms and fast-food restaurants, and visit places like Walmart. The show once portrayed the two young women as having no clue what Walmart was. As it turns out, they absolutely did know. They were just playing a role on reality TV.
Paris said that when people get to know her and spend time with her in real life, they always remark on how different she is than when she’s on TV. Her voice is lower, her personality is different.
For Paris, it was all an act, but one that changed her.
And she played the same character on talk shows and in her public appearances.
Claire Malone, an expert on reality TV, said this to Markle about reality programming:
“Reality TV isn’t supposed to be challenging. We’re not going there to like, see the antihero. You know, it’s not HBO. It’s something that you turn on when you’re hung over or something.”
Reality TV flourished because it’s “easy to consume,” due to its reliance on stereotypes and archetypes, which don’t need a lot of cognitive power to dissect.
Paris said that eventually, she turned her “dumb blonde / bimbo” image around. It started with working for herself and starting her business empire. But then, when she started tapping into her past traumas at boarding school, she realized that she could be the hero that kids like her very much need.
Now, Paris is working to shine a light on the maltreatment of kids at many children’s therapy programs. And if you listen closely, you’ll hear that her voice isn’t what we’ve heard so much in the past. It isn’t that high-pitched, ditzy kind of tone. That still comes out sometimes, but usually when she’s being asked to quote herself from her past.
“There’s nothing better or I think more inspiring for people to know that, even if you’re labeled something, it doesn’t have to define you forever,” Markle told Paris. “And, even if you bought into that label for yourself, you can change your mind.”
Iliza Schlesinger on Being ‘Too Hot’ to Handle
Iiza Schlesinger is a comedian and actress who has made a huge name for herself via her Netflix comedy specials. She generally speaks to the experiences of Millennials and is adept at touching on the female psyche. Schlesinger, who appears blonde (but has admitted in her stand up that she is not), spoke to image alterations. She noted that “women are dying their hair to make themselves look like the kind of attractive that Western culture says is attractive.”
“We all want to be good looking,” Schlesinger told the duchess. “But, if you are smart, you’ll always know, ‘there’s more to this.’ You’ll always feel undervalued if you’re not spoken to in the right way if you’re smart. Like, it bothers me if somebody speaks to me like there’s something wrong with me. And then I don’t become so pretty.”
“You know, we fault women for playing into something,” the comedian continued. “And it’s like, well you said this was bad, you made her this and you wanted her to be this and then when they became that, we’re always like ‘you have to be something else.’ And that goes for body types, achievements, archetypes.”
“We tell a woman to be one way. Then we ridicule her following suit.”
“The irony, right? We tell a woman to be one way. Then we ridicule her following suit,” responded Markle. “Again, it’s so easy. But easy often means accessible. And that’s exactly why archetypes, including the bimbo and the dumb blonde, this is why they flourished in the reality TV boom of the early 2000s.”
Schlesinger spoke about being perceived as the comedian who is “too hot.” But she laughed it off, saying that it was all about context.
“I wasn’t this gorgeous homecoming queen,” she said. But when I got into comedy, all of a sudden it was like, ‘oh, she’s too hot.’ I’m like, ‘yes, compared to the bog trolls you do open mics with, yes’. But compared to a room of actresses, I’m very normal looking. And compared to a room of models, like, I’m the one refilling the water… It was being used against me… It’s just an example of how they take it away from you any way they can.”
“How did that make you feel?” Markle asked.
“’I’m fine,” Iliza said. “I’m sitting here now… And also, it was like, the ugliest men saying it. I’m like, ‘I’m still not going to sleep with you. But thank you so much for that weird, backhanded compliment.’”
Did the Haters Actually Listen to the Archetypes Podcast?
Ironically, with the premiere of Meghan Markle’s latest Archetypes podcast, women have come out of the woodworks to slap down her comments about working for Deal or No Deal. It’s not clear if any of these people actually listened to the entire conversation or if they simply read a couple headlines about the very first few minutes, aka the introduction first mentioning “bimbo.” If that’s the case, it would make sense that they took everything out of context.
Claudia Jordan, a Real Housewives of Atlanta alum and former fellow “briefcase girl” on Deal or No Deal, took to her Instagram stories to rebuke Markle.
“For clarity — yes getting a modeling gig on a game show isn’t necessarily about your intellect,” she wrote. In another post, she continued, “And Deal or No Deal never treated us like bimbos. We got so many opportunities because of that show.”
Whoopi Goldberg questioned Markle’s comments while discussing them with cohosts on The View.
“We’re not journalists, we’re actors,” she said. Later, she added, “That’s TV, baby. But what did you think you were going to? You know that’s what the show was.”
But if anyone really has an axe to grind, it’s Megyn Kelly.
Perhaps unironically, the slim, blonde journalist and podcaster could, just because of her looks, certainly be cast into the stereotypes discussed here.
While speaking about it on her SiriusXM podcast, Kelly tore into Markle. This comes on the heels of calling Markle a “B-list actress” and expressing disdain for Markle’s attempt to control her image.
“This woman is a fraud, and people get it,” Kelly said. “It’s not something a new publicity team can solve. Nor any ‘fact-checker’,” Kelly said. “It’s not something a new publicity team can solve. Nor any ‘fact-checker.’”
She urged Markle to “stop the obsessive image-crafting,” not seeming to understand that that is part of the point of Archetypes, in a way. It’s not just for Markle, but for all women to regain their narratives.
“We don’t feel sorry for you,” Kelly said. “Be quiet for a while and do something meaningful that is not about you. Then maybe we’ll feel inspired to do something other than mock you.”