What’s going on with Kate Middleton? If you haven’t asked yourself this question during the past week, then you probably haven’t seen the endless chatter that seems to be taking over social media. First, let’s get this out of the way: The future queen most likely is indeed recovering from abdominal surgery, just as Kensington Palace said she is. But a confluence of factors—and the public’s rabid preoccupation with celebrity gossip—have converged to make some people online think that something is very amiss.

Here are the actual facts. The Princess of Wales had not been spotted from Christmas Day until this week, when TMZ obtained photos of her sitting in a car with her mother, Carole. Besides the pap shots, Kate has been completely absent from public life since the holiday, when she, her husband Prince William, and their three children joined the rest of the royal family for a church service. She was smiling and looked well, judging solely on photos.

On January 17, Kensington Palace announced that the princess had undergone a “planned abdominal surgery” and would spend 10 to 14 days in the hospital recovering. The statement attempted to prepare the public for Princess Kate to take a long break from public life, saying that she would not resume royal duties until after the Easter holiday on March 31. That same day Buckingham Palace announced that King Charles III had undergone a procedure for an enlarged prostate. Less than a month later, on February 5, the palace released another statement saying that during that procedure, doctors had discovered Charles had an unspecified form of cancer, for which he is now being treated.

To the public, it was a lot of information all at once, and the princess’s health news was somewhat overshadowed by the announcement that the king of England was facing his own health challenges. At first it seemed everyone just wished Kate well. People speculated on what the surgery could be for—some guessed a hysterectomy, for example—but Kensington Palace didn’t share the reason, perhaps planting a seed in people’s minds that there’s something to hide, especially since Buckingham Palace had been forthcoming about the king’s issues. On January 29, Kensington Palace announced Kate was headed home to continue her recovery.

This all may seem fairly benign, but we live in 2024. Kate Middleton is one of the most photographed people in the world, and the fact that she vanished for months is unusual. As people have pointed out on social media, why could the princess not just show her face online, to assuage everyone’s curiosity? A little Instagram photo with her kids, even sitting in bed, would put many of the most overblown rumors (that she’s in a coma, that she and the children have fled the country) to rest. And because she hasn’t, does that mean something actually might be wrong? (Unfortunately for the princess, the grainy pap shots didn’t cut it).

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