Meghan Markle’s Archetypes Spotify podcast returned today with a very candid discussion with Paris Hilton about the derogatory term “bimbo.” The Duchess of Sussex started the conversation with a personal story: What it was really like for her being a briefcase girl on Deal or No Deal—and why she quit.
While Meghan has kept the focus of her Archetypes conversations largely on her interview subjects, she did also reveal her hopes for her daughter Lili briefly during the conversation, too. “I want my Lili to want to be educated and want to be smart and to pride herself on those things,” Meghan said, adding she didn’t want her daughter to feel the need to dumb herself down.
Meghan herself felt dumbed down on Deal or No Deal. As she recalled:
Back in 2006, I had a short stint as a “briefcase girl” on the U.S. version of the game show. Now, my experience on the show—which included holding said briefcase on stage, alongside 25 other women doing the same—was, for me, fascinating. I had studied acting in college, at Northwestern University. And, like a lot of the other women standing up there 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. I had income, I was part of the union, I had health insurance, it was great. And yet… I also studied International Relations in college. And 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 specifically for my brain. Here, I was being valued for something quite the opposite. I mean you have to imagine—just to paint the picture for you—that before the tapings of Deal or No Deal, all the girls, we would line up and there were different stations for having your lashes put on or extensions put in, or the padding in your bra. We were even given spray tan vouchers each week, because there was a very cookie cutter idea of precisely what we should look like. It was solely about beauty—and not necessarily about brains. And when I look back at that time, I will never—I will never forget this one detail—because moments before we’d get on stage with our briefcase, there was a woman who ran the show, and she would be there backstage—and I can still hear her—she couldn’t properly pronounce my last name at the time and I knew who she was talking to because she’d go, “Mark-el, suck it in. Mark-el, suck it in!” [Meghan sighs] I ended up quitting the show. Like I said, I was thankful for the job, but not for how it made me feel. Which was… not smart. And by the way, I was surrounded by smart women on that stage with me. But that wasn’t the focus of why we were there. And I would end up leaving with this pit in my stomach, knowing that I was so much more than what was being objectified on the stage. I didn’t like feeling forced to be all looks and little substance. And that’s how it felt for me at the time—being reduced to this specific archetype [of bimbo.]
Meghan went on to have a very humanizing conversation with Hilton. She reflected on the end of the episode about it, saying she had been nervous to talk to Hilton because “I had a judgment about Paris. And I don’t like having judgment. It doesn’t feel good. But I had to be real about that. Because when I grew up, she was beautiful, rich and famous. ‘What could possibly be wrong with her life?’ I would think. And because my entire sense of self-confidence was wrapped up in being the smart one and not the pretty one, I found the way to project all of my judgment and envy onto her. ‘Who would want to act stupid?’ I would think.”
“Envy can be a very dangerous thing, as can judgment,” she continued. “I was ashamed to admit that I harbored either of those feelings. So I talked to her. And while she admits that she played into this dumb blonde persona that she in part co-created with the media, she also revealed years of trauma that likely made it less easy to carve out her own owned identity. Being dumb, playing the archetype of the dumb blonde, that was a safety mechanism. It was expected of her. It was a mask. And as the woman she is today, the smartest thing she has done—outside of finding entrepreneurial success—is finding herself.”
“In our conversation, I found her to be refreshing. And look, I know she’s made mistakes. I’ve heard about some of them, others not,” Meghan added. “This is not to be framed as the defense of Paris Hilton. But it is the humanization of her. Because that’s where we leave judgments at the door. That’s when we can see a woman behind the archetype. I’m sorry for having judged her. I didn’t know her. And as I assured her, I wasn’t looking for a gotcha moment. I was looking for a got you moment. As in the real you. And I think we did.”
You can listen to the episode here.
Alyssa Bailey is the senior news and strategy editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage of celebrities and royals (particularly Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton). She previously held positions at InStyle and Cosmopolitan. When she’s not working, she loves running around Central Park, making people take #ootd pics of her, and exploring New York City.