When I entered the 90s sphere with Can’t Hardly Dress, the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy immediately fascinated me. So much so that I devoured two books involving her including The Other Man: John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette, and Me by Michael Bergin and America’s Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy Jr. by Steven M. Gillon. There’s a lot to unpack, but for the purposes of this piece, I’m reflecting on CBK’s (as I call her) hatred of the paparazzi. Photographers hounded and stalked her from the moment she became publicly known as John F. Kennedy Jr.’s girlfriend. And she despised them and the emotional torment they put her through. So I ask a simple, yet very complicated question: Is it ethical to share paparazzi photos of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy?
For those needing a primer: CBK was a Boston University graduate who became the ultimate fashion insider. Starting as sales associate with Calvin Klein near Boston, she made it all the way to Director of Show Productions for the brand. She may be best remembered as John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s wife but she was also a big fucking deal in the fashion world. She famously started dating JFK Jr.in 1994, and they later married in 1996. Tragically, JFK Jr., CBK and her twin sister, Lauren Bessette all perished in a plane crash on July 21, 1999 of the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.
Today, CBK mostly exists in our cultural memory as the spouse of one of the most famous American men. But, I wanted to know her as she struck me as a truly fascinating person. Neither book gave me what I was looking for, which was CBK in her own words. An unwritten book.
Gillon, a historian and friend of JFK Jr., wrote in his book that Carolyn deeply hated the paparazzi. Once known as JFK Jr.’s girlfriend, her life changed forever. Paparazzi posted up outside her door and tracked her moves.
“The paparazzi treated Carolyn horribly,” Gillon wrote. “John believed once he got married, the press would leave him alone. He’d no longer be America’s most eligible bachelor. He’d be another married guy. And just the opposite happened.”
Knowing this is why I feel torn when seeing people share “street style” photos of CBK in New York. She was an icon on the sidewalk of the Big Apple before blogs and social media existed. These photos were not her choice. In the majority of these photos, her face almost always looks anguished. She just wanted to be left alone, I think to myself. I can only imagine the whiplash of being a quiet fashion insider one day to being the It Girl the next. Even though CBK successfully manifested marrying America’s dreamiest man, it wasn’t her fairy tale.
Having read the books I did, I will also say that CBK semeed deeply anxious, depressed and torn over her relationship with JFK Jr. Reports are varied on this subject, but many signs point to them divorcing eventually. So, when I see the photos, I think of a woman who didn’t know what she was getting into. She was thrust into the spotlight, much like Princess Diana. She hated the paparazzi stalking her.
Coupled with that was her husband: Famous on a level unmatched even to this day and definitely handsome. Having lived his whole life under the spotlight, John didn’t know how to react to Carolyn’s hatred of what he had not only tolerated but embraced for so long.
If you want my opinion, it’s this: Don’t share the paparazzi and street style photos of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. They are beautiful, no doubt. Her fashion was impeccable. And she was a street style phenom before such a world existed in the mainstream consciousness. But she abhored being followed, hated being under a microscope and hated these photos. Stalking made her hole up in her apartment, run from photographers and become paranoid.