8 Ways Princess Diana Influenced Wellness, Beauty and Pop Culture

Before 1980, the British royal family amounted to little more than dusty figures in history books and Shakespeare plays in the minds of most Americans. But in November of that year, Prince Charles took a young nursery-school assistant named Lady Diana Spencer to Balmoral, the royal family’s Scottish residence, and just a few months later he proposed. By that summer, more than 750 million people worldwide would watch their wedding, and suddenly Princess Diana and the royal family were celebrities on par with movie stars. But reigniting an international fascination with all things royal was only one of the many ways that the People’s Princess, who died 20 years ago this month at age 36, made an indelible impact on the world. From the way people think about fashion to how they treat people with AIDS to how we all consider celebrity privacy and the paparazzi, read on to learn just a handful of the ways in which Princess Diana’s life and untimely death forever changed the world that we live in.

Diana Was a ‘Fashion Gangsta’.

It’s not difficult to imagine the shy young woman who once preferred oversize sweaters and high-necked dresses getting a good laugh from being called a fashion “gangsta” by Rihanna recently. For the singer, the Princess of Wales was “the best who ever did it.” But it’s not simply the clothes she wore that continue to inspire today’s fashionistas; it was the way she did it. Former first lady Michelle Obama’s penchant for wearing new designers to bolster their careers can be traced back to Diana’s insistence on wearing native British or U.K.-based designers like Victor Edelstein and Catherine Walker to promote her country’s fashion industry.

Her Skin Care Routine Was Spot On.

Princess Diana was ahead of her time in many ways, including her skin care regimen. According to makeup artist Mary Greenwell, Diana was very conscientious about her skin and was careful to cleanse, tone and moisturize twice a day. She even cut back on alcohol because of its negative effects on her skin. Princess Diana was always open to trying new things when it came to makeup, including ditching the heavy blue eyeliner that was so much a part of her early look. “Blue eyes should never wear blue pencil or shadow,” says Greenwell. “It dulls your eyes.”

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Diana Wasn’t Afraid to Talk About Taboo Issues.

In 1993, Princess Diana spoke for the first time of an illness she described as a “shameful friend.” The millions of people who suffered from eating disorders not only knew what she was talking about, but they also felt that they had an ally in their recovery. While she never spoke about her personal struggles, Diana spoke with an intimacy that could only come from firsthand knowledge. The young people suffering from eating disorders told her that they felt an expectation to be perfect and “didn’t feel they had the right to express their true feelings to those around them.” Thanks to Diana, crucial conversations about a problem long shrouded in silence finally started taking place out in the open.

She Lifted the Stigma Around HIV/AIDS.

Today it’s difficult to imagine what a bold act of humanity simply touching someone’s hand could be. But in 1987 many believed that HIV/AIDS could be contracted through casual contact. So when Diana shook the hand of an AIDS patient, it truly meant something. “She made people realize that you can have AIDS but still be a human being,” Stuart Chapman, who met the princess when she visited his partner who was dying of the disease in 1991, told People magazine shortly after Diana’s death in 1997. Diana’s actions would help to stem the tide of AIDS stigma and inspire other activists like her friend Elton John and her son Harry, who in 2006 started a charity to help children in Africa affected by the disease.

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Diana’s Tragic Death Helped Reign in the Paparazzi.

George Clooney never met Princess Diana. But following her shocking death in France resulting from a car crash during which she was chased by paparazzi, he angrily spoke out against the celebrity news industry that he felt was complicit in her death. “If you weren’t hiding behind the profession of journalism … you would go to jail,” said Clooney at a press conference at the time_._ Have things improved? A little. Following Diana’s death, the Press Complaints Commission, which regulates the British press, added new guidelines to its code of practice and, in 2010, California passed a law to increase the punishment for those who drive dangerously in pursuit of photos for commercial gain.

She Made Bold Fashion Statements.

When it came to fashion, Diana liked to go bold. She was perhaps never bolder than when she wore an asymmetric off-the-shoulder dress from the Japanese designer Hachi to the 1983 premiere of the James Bond film “Octopussy.” Her longtime stylist Anna Harvey called the dress a fashion turning point for Diana. “I think that was when she realized that, if she was clever, she could make a huge statement with what she wore and where she wore it,” says Harvey. Many more of her statements (but, sadly, not the Hachi dress) are on display at “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” an exhibition of her gowns and suits that opened earlier this year at Kensington Palace and will remain open through 2018.

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Diana Made Royalty Hip Enough for Prime Time.

One can trace pop culture’s current obsession with British royalty directly back to our national fascination with Diana. If she had not blazed such a bright path, our TV sets and computer screens would not be so inundated with monarchs. HBO’s “Elizabeth I,” Showtime’s “The Tudors,” PBS’s “Victoria,” and Starz’s “The White Queen” are just a small sampling of the royal-themed shows available for our viewing pleasure. Netflix’s much-lauded “The Crown,” which tells the story of the early days of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, plans to jump ahead in season three and focus at least in part on the current monarch’s complicated relationship with the Princess of Wales.

Diana’s Sons Are Carrying on Her Legacy.

Diana’s sons have made addressing issues shadowed in stigma and shame part of their mission as adults. In sharp contrast with the royal tradition of keeping mum on personal and health matters, William and Harry have joined forces with Heads Together, the Royal Foundation’s mental health campaign. In William’s words, the goal is “smashing the taboo” of mental illness. To that end, Harry has spoken candidly of nearly suffering a mental breakdown after his mother’s death and seeking professional help. “Once you start talking about [mental health], you suddenly realize, actually, you’re part of a big club,” Harry said earlier this year. “Everybody’s gagging to talk about it.”

What Do YOU Think?

Do you follow news from the royal family? What impact do you think Princess Diana had on culture? Will you be marking the anniversary of her death in a special way? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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