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'Forks in the road': The Life of Stella Tennant

Yesterday, the family of British model Stella Tennant confirmed that her death in December was by suicide.

Tennant, who they described as "a beautiful soul" had been "unwell for some time". While this may come as news to those who didn't know her beyond the front covers she graced and the runways she walked, the same clearly cannot be said for her loved ones. It's a stark reminder that, although we may think we know a life by virtue of it being lived in the public eye, we simply cannot. We can only know what is curated and shown to us. This does not always reflect their inner life. 

A black and white image of Stella Tennant taken from British Vogue

What can we learn from this? It sounds a bit 'Jerry Springer' but perhaps we can learn to be kind to ourselves - and each other. To stop looking at the shop window of a person's life and assuming we know what's inside. To stop beating ourselves up for not achieving what someone else appears to have achieved - the 'ideal' family life or aspirational career. They might be happy, but they might also be sad, lonely or unfulfilled. Perhaps they feel all of these things sometimes, as most of us do. 

We should all feel able to continue to talk about the complicated, multi-faceted issue of mental illness - and to do so sensitively. After the death by suicide of designer Kate Spade, some gossip news channels speculated on the "cause", oversimplifying this complex issue - and even published content believed to have been contained within her 'suicide note'. Neither of these things constitute sensitive commentary. We can do better. 

Defining a generation

Tennant's career arguably began with the iconic 'London Girls' imagery of photographer Steven Meisel, featured in British Vogue in 1993. Her punk/grunge aesthetic then - complete with nose piercing and dark, smudgy eyeliner - is so powerful - and also a bit nostalgic for those (myself included) who spent their teenage years wearing black plastic bracelets, baggy jeans with chains, and moody makeup. It was the beginning of a creative and successful career. 

In an interview with Tim Blanks in 2018, in response to a question about destiny, Tennant replied:  

"You come to forks in the road all the time. I said to my daughter, ‘What do you do when you come to a fork in the road?’ [And she answered,] ‘Just…pick it up?’ You endlessly are coming to choices. But I feel that you make the choice."

Please let's make the choice to better understand and discuss mental illness and suicide. And - if you're reading this right now and you're struggling, please make the choice to reach out...

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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