A taste of royal things to come? Fat police on case of bride-to-be's figure

As her wedding nears, Kate Middleton has been recast as 'weighty Katie'. Harriet Walker on a disturbing media furore

Kate Middleton's fingers are not exactly the same size as those of her late mother-in-law Princess Diana, it was revealed yesterday. The bride-to-be has taken her engagement ring to a jeweller's to have it "re-sized", according to The Sun newspaper's front-page "royal wedding exclusive". The revelation about "super-slim" Kate's wedding ring comes as media attention and speculation intensifies about her private life even before her wedding at Westminster Abbey in little over a fortnight.

Photographs from Ms Middleton's childhood have been released. Tales of her suffering at the hands of bullies during her schooldays have been disseminated. And an American-made TV film, Wills and Kate, is set to air this month.

But as Ms Middleton's private life has become as much a part of our quotidian as breakfast, it is her weight that is perhaps attracting the most attention. Her supposed eating plan has even coined a new vernacular term – the "briet", or bridal diet. And the implication is that Ms Middleton has taken things too far: her normally slim and athletic frame, originally estimated at a healthy size 10, is thought to have dropped to a size six, "experts" have observed.

"Kate is naturally beautiful and there is no need for her to drop any more dress sizes," The Sun's royal photographer, Arthur Edwards, said yesterday. "Kate's fitted taupe jacket helped show her figure," declared the paper's front-page story, "but her Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress was a little shapeless." Coverage came on the same day that actor Scarlett Johansson's publicist had to quash rumours that she was pregnant, after paparazzi lenses zoomed in on a small-ish postprandial hillock. It is nothing new that female celebrities are subjected to intense physical scrutiny, and the extraordinary build-up to the royal wedding has led to a string of observations and accusations regarding Ms Middleton's weight. The singularly unfortunate soubriquet "waity Katie" has even been changed to the snide homonym "weighty Katie", and comparisons with Princess Diana, whose eating disorders and weight struggles are public knowledge, abound.

Socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie, and Mad Men actor January Jones are just some of the names regularly accused of being "too thin" by the tabloids, as are pop stars Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham. But the ways in which they are treated differ hugely – and it works the other way; Princess Beatrice's weight gain was similarly scrutinised. Moral outrage and visceral distaste are the primary modes with most celebrities, but Ms Middleton is among the select few who merit concern, sincerity and a patriotic sense of ownership.

During a meet and greet in Belfast on Pancake Day (the irony: presumably Ms Middleton has not been eating any of those), onlooker Heather Lindsay implored her not to lose any more weight. "It's all part of the wedding plan," Ms Middleton replied. As it is, of course, for almost every bride in the country to slim into her dress for the big day – and that's without factoring in the Sky News helicopters, long lenses and hours of high-definition television coverage.

"Your normal, healthy, lithe and athletic body – the one that captured the Prince's eye when you wore that diaphanous dress at university – has almost disappeared, along with your curves," wrote the Daily Mail's Amanda Platell in an open letter to Ms Middleton last month. Two days later, fellow columnist Jan Moir described model Kate Moss as "aging faster than blue cheese in a damp cave". Clearly there is a disconnect between the ways in which women in the public eye are treated, depending on who is flavour of the month.

There is growing concern that headlines and harsh assessments that reveal an obsession with weight could be harmful. "We think about sexuality, race, ethnicity, even age, but weight, size and shape seems to be the one domain where anybody feels they can make a comment," Susan Ringwood, head of Beating Eating Disorders, said. "Everyone can be affected by these comments and for some people it can lead to increasing their vulnerability."

Ms Middleton is, of course, no stranger to this level of attention. Photographers had to be asked to keep their distance after her 25th birthday, when journalists chased her to her car. And during the couple's brief separation in 2007, papers were abuzz with tales of her "temptress" short skirts and skimpy outfits. Of course, Ms Middleton's life is about to change – it already has – but there is an assumption (and the mock concern that comes with it) that this is only the beginning of The Kate Middleton Show, that it will further escalate after the honeymoon. But it seems more likely that the couple will settle into the rigmarole of humdrum married life, opening hospitals and kissing babies without the constant media presence of recent months. Other royals have managed it; many people barely even noticed when Prince Edward got married and the currently betrothed Zara Phillips has escaped much of the scrutiny that has befallen Ms Middleton. As has Prince William, for that matter. Even as columnists and commentators pick through Ms Middleton's dustbins, not a word has been uttered about how much Prince William is eating or how much hair he has left. Ms Middleton is yet another female media victim, who will only be left alone when the voracious public appetite has been sated.

The Kate weight debate

'I have it on very good authority that Kate Middleton is trying to put on weight before her wedding. While most brides diet like mad in the run–up to the big day, Kate, who is already slender as a wand, is making trips to the shops to buy packets of Haribo sweets. Attagirl!'

Allison Pearson, The Daily Telegraph, 31 March 2011

'I'm worried about Kate Middleton's weight at the moment. The royal bride-to-be strikes me as worryingly thin. Now I know she has a big wedding to organise and the first glimpse of her in her wedding frock will be watched live by upwards of two billion people, but she seems to be vanishing before our very eyes. Kate has to accept she's now a role model for young girls everywhere who crave the ultimate happy ever after... Am I worrying unnecessarily?'

Kay Burley, Sky News, 12 April 2011

'Your normally healthy, lithe and athletic body... has almost disappeared, along with your curves. The last thing you want to do is to end up like Diana on her wedding day, so fretful about the future and under so much pressure that her weight had plummeted alarmingly. Yes, you still look radiant — beaming all the hope a bride has the right to feel in the run-up to her wedding. But those legs are worryingly thin.'

Amanda Platell, Daily Mail, 9 March 2011