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Why did the media fail L’Wren Scott?

I like travelling on trains by myself because put quite simply, I like eavesdropping. You hear and see some great stuff when you can’t move for three or so hours. Granted, I could read or do some productive work, but I find the bustling activity on the carriage too distracting, and, if truth be told, entertaining. However, during this morning’s journey, I heard a young boy, who couldn’t have been any more than seven or eight, ask a woman, who I’m presuming to be his mother, if “you have to be a woman to be a feminist?” (Her answer was a wholehearted “NO!”, by the way) and while I don’t know what prompted the wonderful question, at the time I was reading this article from New York magazine on the sexist reporting of the designer and former model, L’Wren Scott’s death and both instances collided and struck a chord.

On Monday, 17 March, news broke of L’Wren Scott’s tragic death and within minutes of the announcement of her passing, various social media platforms exploded with outpourings of grief, sympathy and unfortunately, terribly-sexist reporting on the designer’s then-suspected suicide. “Mick Jagger’s girlfriend found dead” was the general headline du jour that was being peddled, with the majority of reports primarily referring to L’Wren as the girlfriend of Rolling Stones frontman, Mick Jagger. Few took into account Scott’s immensely successful career as a fashion designer and model and those that did, did so almost fleetingly in the shadows of branding her as being not much more than someone’s girlfriend. Of course, soon came touching and poignant tributes from magazine editors, colleagues and friends, but the initial news of L’Wren Scott’s death was abominably reported, largely ignorant of the fact that L’Wren was talented and accomplished above all else. 

The media’s failing of Scott is all the more tragic given that all she ever wanted was to be viewed on her own merits and achievements, rather than as a statuesque trophy girlfriend of a world-famous singer. Allison P Davis recalls a 2008 interview with New York magazine whereby L’Wren says, “I just want to be known for what I do, not who I know” and then references a 2013 interview with The London Times, in which the designer declared, “I’m a fashion designer. I don’t want to be known as someone’s girlfriend.” L’Wren rose to fame first as a model in Paris for the likes of Thierry Mugler and Chanel, then delving into work as a stylist, before finally finding her calling as a designer, dressing stars such as Nicole Kidman and Angelina Jolie for the most prestigious of red carpet events. The media coverage of her death couldn’t have been further from what Scott strove for and it begs the question, how, in the twenty-first century can there exist such nonchalant sexism and sheer ignorance? Did any editor even question the headlines that were being carelessly ushered out and more importantly, what kind of editor vetoed them? Do they need that seven or eight-year-old boy to lead them towards enlightenment? 

On Monday, I immediately picked up on the way this story was being broadcast and I Tweeted about my fury at the reckless reporting of one person’s life and death. The replies shocked me. “How is it sexist?” one user asked me. Others suggested that L’Wren wasn’t well known enough to be afforded a headline of her own. People were genuinely trying to explain to me, in the most rational of manners, that it makes sense to refer to Scott as “Mick Jagger’s girlfriend” because that is all that people know her as. Someone even suggested that it’s totally acceptable because (unlike me, presumably), not everyone has “a passion for fashion.” I had to stop replying because the idiocy was infuriating and people were losing sight of the bigger issue – a woman had taken her own life and died having so much more to give. Obviously, there is an important discussion to be had on mental health and I am aware that there are millions of people who tragically face Scott’s fate and only time and hope will tell if her death was in vain. I really hope it wasn’t.

I don’t want to dwell on the Twitter debate, but the worrying acceptance of the deplorable headlines really shocked me. This wasn’t even a question of feminism, or sexism, it was a question of basic humanity. Are people actually for real? Above all else, L’Wren was a human, who was both gifted and tortured and she deserved the respect of being called by her name and not degradingly termed as someone’s possession. Thankfully,  Forbes‘ Clare O’Connor quickly jumped into the Twitter debate to appropriately offer, “Her name was L’Wren Scott and she was accomplished”, in reply to apathetic and thoughtless news headlines.  Her suicide has, of course, left her loved ones reeling with grief and one can only offer immense sympathy to Jagger, who has lost his “lover and best friend.”

L’Wren is undoubtedly worthy of all the wonderful character descriptions now posthumously bestowed upon her by various tributes and she was indeed the girlfriend of Mick Jagger, but the latter never defined her. Her relationship was part of the sum of her being, never the whole. If mainstream media is so casually dismissive of such basic human respect, then I hope I’m not valuing my own voice too highly (and I really do not intend to) when I say that it needs to get a grip and cop on. For God’s sake, L’Wren Scott was more than someone’s girlfriend and I hope that now she is finally at peace. 

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