Who is Caroline Calloway, and why can’t the internet stop talking about her?
An essay about an Instagram influencer and a toxic female friendship is blowing up online
Caroline Calloway: ‘Scamming is my brand right now, but it’s a narrative I would like to be excluded from.’ Photograph: Noam Galai/Getty
Who is Caroline Calloway, and why does everyone seem to be talking about her?
Caroline Calloway is the subject of an intense, emotionally complex long read in New York Magazine’s the Cut. It was written by her former close friend and ghostwriter Natalie Beach, and now the internet can’t stop talking about her – largely because Calloway herself can’t stop talking about the article.
Twitter has blown up. The Reddit thread about the story has 4,000 comments and counting. People are saying they’re going to take the day off to watch the drama unfold.
The reason for the obsession isn’t just the piece itself, which is a complex, knotty look at toxic female friendship, class difference and mental illness.
Calloway has 790,000-plus Instagram followers. As soon as she received an email from Beach warning her that the article was coming, she started writing about the piece on her Instagram feed and on her stories, and sharing screenshots of private conversations. She built a huge amount of hype for the story before it came out, teetering between magnanimity and hysteria.
Since the story dropped, Calloway has been obsessively posting about the article and her relationship with the writer, rewriting the history of her own Instagram feed to edit Beach into the narrative.
Why have I heard this name before?
Calloway has been bubbling in and out of mainstream consciousness for several years. She blew up in 2015 as an early Instagram influencer who signed a six-figure book deal. Then, in January, she was at the centre of a Fyre Festival-style meltdown, when her $165-a-ticket “creativity workshops” turned out to be a disappointing shambles for her fans. She accidentally ordered too many mason jars (1,200 of them!); she promised attendees home-cooked lunch but delivered soggy aubergine on Wholefoods spinach salads. At one point, while pinning orchids into attendees’ hair, she whispered: “The secret to flower crowns is there is no secret.” The whole disaster was documented in real time via Instagram stories by both Calloway and her customers. Although her apologies have been complicated, Calloway did refund many customers who purchased tickets for the events.
View this post on Instagram
Do you guys have any friendships that have ended that still bring you pain? This afternoon I found out that one of the two people I have hurt the most in this world will be publishing an essay about our friendship for The Cut. I don’t know when this essay will go live. But it will be different than the articles that called me a scammer for clickbait. Everything in Natalie’s article will be brilliant and beautifully expressed and true. I know this not because I have read her essay but because Natalie is the best writer I know. I still love her. Our friendship ended 2 years ago, but I still walk around New York sometimes, listening to music, running errands, thinking about her. Amsterdam. I’ll let her tell you about that trip because it put her in danger—not me—so maybe it is hers to tell. Maybe she has custody of that story. Sometimes I all but gag with guilt. Sometimes I write emails to her in my head. Sometimes I imagine a future where we’re friends again! Natalie suffered all the consequences of being loved by an addict and none of the benefits of being loved by the woman that recovery made me into. In early August Natalie liked one of my Instagram photos by accident. I knew it was by accident because I know Natalie. But still! I thought: Maybe she is checking in on me because she still wants to be friends! Maybe she still loves me, too. I realize now that she must have been working on the article about us that will be published soon by New York Magazine. My team asked two things of me: To ignore this essay in my posts so I don’t drive traffic to it and to give them Natalie’s email so they could reach out. This is the first time I’ve disobeyed them. You should read Natalie’s article when it comes out. I’ll post a link when it does. Go leave a comment on nymag.com even if it’s insulting me. Every digital impression will be another reason for The Cut to hire Natalie again and to pay her even more next time. And The Cut doesn’t have access to the audience most interested in hating and loving Caroline Calloway. I do. So start anticipating this article. Get excited. Read it. I hope I can support Natalie now in ways I never did during my addiction.
If you can’t identify the Caroline Calloway in all of your female friendships, then you are the Caroline Calloway— Ej Dickson (@ejdickson) 11 September 2019
Is there anything more complicated and difficult to understand in the entire world then Quantum Physics and friendships between middle/upper middle class white girls who meet doing creative writing class together at an east coast college? #carolinecalloway— Nakkiah Lui (@nakkiahlui) 11 September 2019
Two weeks ago she wrote a widely shared piece for Refinery 29 titled What Taylor Swift’s Lover taught me about being a scammer, which included the truly superb line “Scamming is my brand right now, but it’s a narrative I would like to be excluded from.”
So tell me about this New York Magazine piece
First of all, clear your schedule, because it’ll take you 30 minutes to read the whole thing properly. It chronicles seven years of intermittent codependency between Beach and Calloway.
The pair met at college. Calloway was rich and pretty and exciting, and Beach was a poor student working odd jobs and struggling with self-image. The class difference between Beach and Calloway is central to the piece. Calloway led a glamorous life filled with international travel and nights out with aristocrats. She frequently brought Beach along for the ride, even though Beach couldn’t afford to keep up.
Beach was sometimes financially dependent on Calloway, working as her ghostwriter in exchange for a plane ticket, cash and, at one stage, accommodation. This was a problem because Calloway is incredibly unreliable. At one point she yanks Beach’s housing for the summer out from under her, leaving her basically homeless.
On top of the messy monetary entanglements, Beach also resents Calloway, even as she’s crafting a perfect image of Calloway’s life through ghostwritten Instagram captions and, later, a book proposal.
There’s a mental health element to it that seems to be making some people uneasy. What are the ethics here?
Calloway has been open about her addiction to the stimulant Adderall. In the piece Beach describes Calloway’s bouts of depression, where she wouldn’t get out of bed, change her clothes or shower for days. Beach does not paint a portrait of a well woman. Although Calloway says she no longer abuses Adderall, the way she documents herself on Instagram makes her seem like a person in a state of perpetual meltdown. A lot of people are understandably uncomfortable grabbing the popcorn and watching that unfold.
Yet, Calloway also wields power and influence. People have repeatedly given her money for services she doesn’t provide or underdelivers. She profits from the attention – a minefield in itself. Now Beach will profit from that attention too.
It’s important to read Beach’s piece in the context of Calloway’s own documentation of her life: many of the uglier facts of the story aren’t news to Calloway’s followers. What’s new is Beach’s perspective.
This whole saga seems to have monopolised conversations, tabs and Twitter for the last two days – at least for a certain group of people. What does that say about us?
Caroline Calloway is a hot mess. But she’s a hot mess who’s wealthy, young, white and well… hot. This mines a deep seam in our collective imagination. From Empress Elisabeth to Eddie Sedgwick to Cat Marnell, other young white women love stories of girls who are richer and more messed up than they are. We love the darkness of picking whether we’re a Natalie or a Caroline. We love reflecting on the times we’ve switched from one to the other.
Plenty of people don’t have the time or the privilege to get into this nonsense, which Roxane Gay has called “a white girl journey”.
But, speaking personally, as someone whose life looks just enough like Calloway’s and Beach’s to get into it, this hit my system harder than a triple-shot coconut-milk latte sweetened with 30ml of Adderall. – Guardian
Alyx Gorman answered Steph Harmon’s questions