I thought I’d seen it all, read all the novel-length Instagram captions I could, consumed every possible article on the feud between Caroline Calloway and Natalie Beach. But I was wrong. So tragically wrong. For those of you who haven’t spent the past few weeks following an Instagram influencer with rabid devotion (I envy you), a few weeks ago, Caroline Calloway’s former best friend and self-proclaimed ghost writer wrote an article in The Cut detailing their toxic, codependent friendship. I feel like I went through the stages of grief keeping up with this feud: denial (that this was a thing I should care about), anger (that I do, in fact, need to care about it), bargaining (with my boss over other stories I could potentially follow, but alas, here I am), depression (see: anger), and finally, in what I thought was my pièce de résistance, acceptance. It was really a rollercoaster of emotions: the first time I read the story, I was convinced that Caroline was a pretty crappy friend and Natalie deserved to tell her story.
But the second time I gave The Cut essay a pass, I realized that actually, Natalie was no better. She was more than happy to live in her friend’s shadow and was down for the crazy ride that was being Caroline’s friend, so long as she could get something out of it (whether that be funny stories, free plane tickets, or a stint writing IG captions that she would later put on her resume). Natalie even went so far as to stop talking to Caroline for a while and then reach back out the second she started doing a press tour, like, “hey, remember me? Happy to help you write your memoir if you need it!” Natalie and Caroline’s relationship is unhealthy and complicated and I’m not really sure whose side I’m on, if I’m even on a side. And I thought that was all past me and I would never have to debate who’s the worse friend, Natalie or Caroline, ever again.
That is, until Sunday, when Caroline finally started posting her much-awaited responses to Natalie’s essay. I know they say “better late than never”, but truly, I would have preferred to never get this side of the story than to have to immerse myself back into this feud that is about as exciting as watching my water boil for pasta. Which is to say, it’s mildly interesting in a vacuum but more interesting simply because I am already invested. But this is the life I chose! So here I am, a dutiful servant to a back-and-forth I’m not sure anyone cares about but me, ready to digest and then regurgitate back to you what’s happening with some semblance of logic and understanding.
Last week, Caroline appeared on The Red Scare podcast to give her take on her whole feud with Natalie. And then she started posting her signature everyday photos with lengthy captions. So, with a resigned sigh, I went to Caroline’s profile and started reading.
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Say what you want about my dependability during my Adderall addiction, but during a very stressful time I have hit every mark, met every professional obligation on time without canceling and created opportunities right and left. No missteps. Last night I went on Red Scare live. Later today I will give the eulogy at my father’s funeral. And before I do that I will get my recap of last night up before any free-lancer or news platform does. I wish I could sleep on this bus down to Virginia because last night was tiring and today will be tiring and I’m tired. But I’m also a hard-worker. And I have literally zero faith in reporters at this point to get anything right. I mean I literally had to live through a time when headlines around the world were calling me A LITERAL SCAMMER because it is not journalistic malpractice in this day and age to cite a twitter thread as a source. Let’s get into it. Natalie did not tell a single lie in her piece for The Cut. She lied by omission. Which, I guess, is not surprising because lying by omission is how we crafted my persona and sold my book proposal to publishers. Natalie did the same when she designed the character of Natalie and sold her story for FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS to The Cut. Was it a beautiful piece of writing? YES. Does The Cut pay that kind of money to freelance writers just for art? No. They pay that kind of money for dirt on people that other people care about. I’m a talented writer, but I’m also talented at conjuring celebrity out of thin fucking air. I mean I’m famous for what…. Being CC? That required a flair for storytelling and an ability to make shit others want, but also the strength to quit my Adderall addiction before I killed myself, and the stamina to keep going when the world was tearing me to pieces. They will again. Natalie didn’t have to keep going when things were bad. Natalie did not put in the millions of hours I have clocked making Instagram stories and Instagram captions and building (1) a parasocial bond with my followers, (2) an interest in me amongst the press, (3) my audience and (4) my brand. But she cashed in on all of those things when she sold her secrets about me. (Part 1/9)
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I respect Natalie for betraying the confidence of our friendship and selling my secrets to The Cut. She is hungry for money and fame and power and that ambition is what drew me to her in the first place. This is not a story about a beta and an alpha. This is a story about two alphas. Some facts: Natalie grew up more privileged than I did. I’ve been to her family home in New Haven and I’ve been to my family home in Virginia and hers is nicer not just in terms of square footage, but in terms of all the things inside of it and how they are arranged. I grew up in a hoarded mess and Natalie lived in a fancy, well-educated part of New Haven which is already a fancy, well-educated town. Her next door neighbor was the famous playwright, David Mamet. My next door neighbors in Falls Church including ME do not know who David Mamet is—I am just parroting what Natalie told me. Because, as twenty-year-olds in New York City, we BOTH said pretentious shit to each other all the time. It was not me being pretentious and Natalie sitting there and taking it. We were both a little self-deluded and a little insecure and trying to assert our identities to each other in a way that commanded power. Natalie’s only job as a writer before selling her essay at The Cut was working as a book critic for O Magazine. She got this job because her aunt is the Editor-in-Chief. Was I jealous that Natalie was getting writing jobs handed to her and I wasn’t because her family is well-off and well-connected and my family is an outdoorsy homebody (Mom) and a mentally ill recluse (Dad)? Yes. One way I was more privileged than Natalie is that my parents put every penny into my education and paid for my living expenses while I was a college student. I would later find out my Dad went into hundreds of thousands of dollars of credit card debt to give me these opportunities. And from these opportunities I built more opportunities for myself because… you know… I wanted to be a writer and no one in my family was giving me writing jobs. (Part 2/9)
On the one hand, it does feel misleading to represent Caroline as incredibly privileged (and a bit oblivious because of that privilege) if Natalie herself was also privileged. To write about having to play housekeeper for your friend’s apartment because you couldn’t afford rent, and relying on that friend to swoop in and save the day when you miss a series of international flights, if you know you very well could have afforded the same luxuries, is dishonest. However, to call New Haven “a fancy, well-educated town” is just not accurate. New Haven, if you actually venture outside the Yale campus, has an unemployment rate of 5.2%—the U.S. average is 3.9%. The average income for a New Haven resident is $23,796 per year. The median household income is $37,508. The U.S. average is $53,482 yearly. It could be true that Natalie’s family lived in an affluent part of New Haven, but it is not true that the entire city itself is affluent. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case.
In my best Oprah voice, I ask: what is the truth?
On the other hand, it’s comical to watch two (apparently) privileged white girls battle it out on the internet, of all arenas, about who was richer and had a better childhood.
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When Natalie and I were sitting in my then-turquoise West Village apartment writing the proposal that we would eventually sell to publishers, Natalie explained two concepts to me: Everyone hates the rich. And everyone loves the plucky underdog. If you read our one-hundred-and-three-page book proposal, which I might just post in its entirety here on my Instagram page so you can see what I’m talking about, Natalie and I made the character of Caroline Calloway the bumbling, dowdy second fiddle to the rich and beautiful girls who surround her. This was a departure from how I approached the character of me on my Instagram until that point. We wrote the book proposal in 2015 and at that time I had been posting on Instagram since 2012. I understood and agreed with Natalie that in long-form narrative prose people hate the rich and love the plucky underdog. But I also understood instinctively social media and I knew in order to get more followers I needed to make my content aspirational so I had to make myself look rich. If I got more followers we—but especially I—could get more money in a book deal farther down the line. Stories of being a rich girl are the very thing with which I used to pull myself up out of the middle class. I explained this to Natalie and she agreed: Make yourself look rich on Instagram. Make yourself look like the plucky underdog in the proposal. Smart alpha moves. Natalie used this PRECISE narrative device in her essay. She pulled out all the rich girl details of my life—of which there were many because, as per my instincts which I explained in very clearly to Nat—pretending to be rich for a little bit could make us actually-rich in the long-term. Natalie knew my family wasn’t that well-off. I talked to her a lot about my Dad; about the real insecurity I felt gliding through these fancy worlds. Both as an artist and someone who wants money, fame and power, I respect Natalie’s decision to leave all these details out and flatten me into a caricature of myself. More smart alpha moves. (Part 3/9)
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In her 6,500+ word essay for The Cut Natalie does not use the word addiction once. She makes all my actions as an addict seem like my sober personality. Alpha move again and I respect it. The more complex a character she made ME the more conflicted she would make the reader. As the essay stands—even though Natalie makes her own character flawed—it’s very clear who is the flawed hero and who is the bat shit crazy girl. This is not an issue of Natalie being unaware of my recovery in the two years since we stopped being friends. The week before The Cut piece published she sent me an email that read: “I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to overcome that addiction, and I’m so happy you’re healthy now.” Then she turned around and published an essay about the hardest years of my life that contained the words “prescription pills,” but not the word “addiction.” Smart. Alpha. Vicious. Respect! I wouldn’t be best friends with someone who wasn’t. By erasing my addiction from the record and omitting the fact that she knew my rich girl front was exactly that—an outward facing performance to get us BOTH paid—Natalie squeezed the humanity out of my story and reduced me down to a wealthy and insane villain. She also made a calculated chess move by selling her story in the wake of all the viral scam stories. Some more facts: The Cut didn’t approach Natalie. Natalie contacted The Cut and pitched. That essay took Natalie six months to write. It published in September, but she finished it in August. That means she made the decision to contact The Cut and begin writing it in February. I went viral as a scam January 12th. I would say the world-wide media-circus surrounding that scam-story lasted four weeks. By mid February things were petering out and by the end of Feb I forgotten by the news altogether. That means that Natalie waited to see how the dust settled around the public perception of me, made sure I didn’t pull of any last minute redemption stories because she of all people knows I am capable of pulling off impossible publicity stunts, and then she went in for the kill. (Part 4/9)
This is honestly amazing. This is the piece-by-pice takedown we were promised. These are the two big takeaways: that Natalie knew Caroline was suffering from addiction and did little or nothing to help, and that Natalie also knew Caroline was pretending to be well-off even when she wrote her essay for The Cut implying otherwise. If true, those are some pretty big lies by omission that disrupt Natalie’s “poor me, I got entranced by Caroline’s charm” narrative. The crazy part to me is that even while Caroline calls Natalie “hungry for money and fame and power”, she insists that those very qualities are what make her a genius. By doing that, she’s softening her own blow. That is, as Caroline would call it, an Alpha move.
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This is the only part of Natalie’s Cut essay that enraged me: “But Caroline hated it so much she threatened suicide.” I had to ask for the clarification to be added. Originally The Cut published Natalie’s essay without the words in parentheses. I could have forgiven Nat for making my struggles with suicide public. (I once mentioned them in an Instagram story and was so spooked and saddened by the way people started immediately trolling, I deleted my post a few hours later and never mentioned it again.) I could have forgiven her for pulling away when I finally opened up and bared all the broken bits of my soul to her and admitted: I need help. I could even forgive her for trivializing the way I took to writing on Instagram in the final days of my book deal when she of all people understands that making digital art from my pain is the most potent and meaningful release I know. But I do not forgive her for making my depression and struggles with suicide a punchline PREMISED ON THE IDEA THAT I THINK SHE IS A BAD WRITER. Jesus fucking CHRIST! I think she’s so talented! The best! People don’t kill themselves because of writing. People kill themselves because of chemical imbalances in the brain. I have to work very hard to stay healthy and loving and in love with life because suicide runs golden through my veins. I asked Natalie about this line when we spoke on the phone and I don’t know why, but my mind decided not to forget everything she said. At the time her reasoning seemed acceptable. Maybe I just wanted to be friends. But now it’s newly triggering and I want to ask her about it again. So much about this sentence hurts. The asking for help. The final phone call. The not helping. The mocking. The chronic depression I inherited from my father. The rest of her essay is absolute perfection apart from the way she erases my addiction. I would appreciate in the future if no one else trivializes my issues with mental health and suicide. Natalie gets a free pass because I love her. And because I feel so much guilt about all the ways I hurt her during my addiction that it almost feels good to see her, sober, hurt me in return.
Here, Caroline is taking aim at Natalie’s revelation in her essay that Caroline had expressed suicidal thoughts (she’s leveled this criticism before) and also at people who claim this information was fair game since Caroline had, apparently, posted about it on Instagram before. While it’s valid to feel exposed and hurt when a friend so publicly revealed a very serious struggle, I feel Caroline is missing the point. Personally, I don’t feel like Natalie included this as a way to express that Caroline thought she was a bad writer—I think she did it to underscore her belief that Caroline was manipulative, and also to show that she became increasingly self-destructive as the days leading up to her book deadline ticked away. It did have an unintended consequence, though: it chips away at Natalie’s credibility as the good, loyal friend. She knew her friend was seriously struggling, threatening suicide, and instead of doing anything, she pulled away.
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Before we begin and finish this fucking thing for good there are few things I want to clarify before we go on. The truth is I don’t know how to talk about privilege. I’m still learning. And I will be committed to this learning my entire life. That’s something most people are too scared to admit. We like our public figures to emerge fully-formed from the cocoon of personal growth, like Athena springing from Zeus’s head ready to tear the patriarchy, colonialism, and white supremacy to the motherfucking ground. That is not an excuse for me to get it wrong. I just wanted to express that I have a pulse on where I am. And to double-back and address something I don’t think I got completely right on my first attempt at it. There is something terrible about two privileged white girls pointing fingers about who is the more privileged one. I think I had a hand in okaying that behavior when I published the sentence: “Natalie grew up more privileged than I did.” I apologize. I hope I can do better on my second attempt at communicating the truth this time. Because there is something terrible about the way that Natalie was aware of how hard things were at home for me, and she was aware of the many advantages her family had given her that mine could not and she STILL chose to omit the full extent about what she knew about me AND herself. The financial, professional, and classed privilege that the character of Caroline Calloway possesses in Natalie’s essay is real. It’s a real part of that essay. The character of Natalie Beach’s many disadvantages is also a hugely important literary device in that piece. My privilege and her disadvantages exist in reality, too. But so does her privilege and my disadvantages. And with full knowledge of the latter she made the DECISION as the narrator to leave certain things out. But she goes all in with all the other shameful secrets of my life that are—to an audience who doesn’t know my full story—alienating and never sympathizing. Smart alpha moves. I hope Smart Alpha Moves becomes the new Big Dick Energy. Just throwing that out into the universe. (Part 9/?)
This is in reference to the above posts. It also brought to mind this other caption, where Caroline basically says the same thing.
— JordanOnceWrote (@JordanOnceWrote) September 26, 2019
One thing is for sure: There is no shot in hell that we are finishing “this f*cking thing for good”. Both Natalie and Caroline have been profiting from the continuation of this feud. Natalie went from relative obscurity to someone people actually talk about, and Caroline shot up to 800k Instagram followers and has headlines in various mainstream publications that don’t simply refer to her as a scammer. But the important part here is that Caroline alleges Natalie made decisions to purposely exploit some of Caroline’s secrets and not others, and cherry-picked the ones that would make Natalie appear more sympathetic and Caroline more unhinged. It’s interesting because nowhere does Caroline accuse Natalie of fabricating any parts of her essay. She simply is saying that Natalie practiced a sort of confirmation bias when writing her essay, willfully disregarding any evidence that would paint Caroline as anything other than a self-centered friend and spoiled person.
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Natalie was Captain of the Women’s Soccer Team at NYU. I was CAS Class President. The real Natalie Beach—not the character she wrote about in The Cut—is popular, athletic, and beloved. The character of Natalie Beach is a blundering, friendless sidekick. The real Natalie Beach is a captain explaining the game plan. The real Natalie Beach saw the advantage in emphasizing her own loneliness and TOOK IT. Fair play! Something I want to do in these Instagram posts is walk along the ocean floor of this story. Yes, I love authentic communicating of one’s truth. But also the truth: I am smart enough to see that telling it in its entirety right now is the most powerful thing I can do. Natalie and I are both jockeying for control of this story by zooming out. Natalie exposed me by showing you how I controlled and fictionalized my story. Now I am exposing her by showing you she controlled and fictionalized her own. Neither of us ever flat-out lied to you. All those beautiful things in Cambridge and all the ugly things that happened to Natalie? They’re all true. But I left out the ugliness and she withheld the beauty. Plus… You know… All the details of my life that would make seem HUMAN instead of a manic pixie nightmare. In order to out-maneuver her as permanently as I can I need to expose how I badly I want my version of things to be the one that stands. I’m not revealing this about myself because I want to. I’m revealing it because if I don’t now, later Natalie will. This is a story about two girls who both lied by omission during their first famous attempts at self-expression. I deceived by leaving swaths of pain out of my brand in 2015 and 4 years later Natalie lied (more deftly, I’ll admit it!) by leaving out critical details in order to position herself as the plucky underdog. This a story about two girls who are ambitious and devilishly gifted narrators. This is a story about stories. Who tells them? Who believes them? Why? Speaking of stories! The phone call! With Natalie! Do you want to know something absolutely fucking POETIC? Remember the cover photo of us in her essay? That fountain in the West Village is where I called her. (Part 10)
For all the other information she revealed in earlier posts, this is… not all that groundbreaking of a revelation, and I don’t even agree with the point Caroline is trying to make. Obscuring your wealth is one thing. But people are multifaceted and can have different personalities in different contexts. You can be captain of the soccer team and still feel ugly and unpopular in the company of your outgoing All-American friend. You can be relatively well-liked and still feel bumbling and uncool when you’re with certain people. This does not make Natalie’s account “fictionalized.” I believe that Natalie truly felt lonely in this friendship, so she emphasized that in the essay. Not because she had a cunning master plan to mischaracterize herself to gain fame, but because she honestly felt that way. I don’t think that means it was a lie. This is what people do when they’re writing an essay, presumably with a word count: they play up certain parts, and leave other parts out.
In her famous essay, “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion touches upon this very assertion that misremembering is akin to lying. She writes, “In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. ‘That’s simply not true,’ the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. ‘The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn’t that way at all.’ Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.” The purpose, she later arrives at, boils down to “How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a note book.” She later emphasizes, “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” And if her friendship with Caroline felt, to Natalie, unfair and unbalanced, then writing as much does not make it a lie.
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When Natalie sold her story to The Cut she was selling her story. When she sells the film and TV rights to her article she will be selling her story AND mine. Without me. Legally she will have to fictionalize the character of Caroline Calloway. Instead of Cambridge maybe the Caroline in her script will go to Oxford and will be addicted to coke instead of Adderall. But everyone will know who Natalie is writing about. At the Red Scare live show a very smart lady named Megan asked me a question that I didn’t get to fully answer because I was torn between riffing on the energy of the crowd and staying on message. She asked: Do you think your relationship with Natalie is parasitic or symbiotic? My answer: If I were even a SMIDGE less brilliant and resilient it would be parasitic as fuuuuuck. I know I’m smart and I refuse to be coy about it. By selling the movie rights to the brand and fame that I have spent YEARS building alone Natalie is essentially sticking a straw into all my work and sucking out the value for herself. Most stories in Hollywood don’t get told twice. Sure, reboots. But two versions of Harry Potter didn’t come out at the same time. Do you know what genre of story is the only kind with precedent of have two competing versions make it through development and then be released in tandem? SCAMS. SCAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS! Scams. The two Fyre Festival documentaries from Netflix and Hulu were released on the same day—the same day I went viral as a scam because the universe is mysterious and possibly a simulation. One project had Billy McFarland’s life rights and one optioned a piece of writing about it. Right now two competing projects about Anna Delvey are in production. Lena Dunham bought the rights to the biography about her and Shonda Rhines at Netflix optioned her life rights. Natalie has made a lot of Smart Alpha Moves that happen to be parasitic because she is cashing in on MY celebrity while endangering my ability to earn the same kind of money from my story. But thank GOD the name Caroline Calloway is synonymous with SCAMMER. I see a future where we develop and two projects independently and release them on the same day—symbiotically. (Part 11)
This is where things really get interesting. Caroline learned that Natalie sold the rights to her Cut article, with a host at the Red Scare live recording claiming Natalie sold it to Ryan Murphy for $1 million.
caroline calloway “answering” the only audience Q at red scare, asked by @megkmag: “was ur relationship w/ natalie parasitic or symbiotic?” instead of answer, it’s confirmed that natalie sold script to ryan murphy for $1 million pic.twitter.com/2U9o0OtSdy
— forever & ever & evan & ever (@evanmalmgren) September 28, 2019
So now, Caroline is upset that Natalie beat her to the punch and sold her story to Hollywood. And, look, I get it. Natalie is using Caroline’s successes, failures, struggles, and even addiction for her personal gain, simply because Caroline is the antagonist in this story. If Natalie had been screwed over or mistreated by a non-Instagram-famous person, this would not be newsworthy. It would not be an essay in a magazine or a story worth adapting on screen. It would be another day in the life. But because Caroline has some amount of Instagram fame, and a failed book deal, and a series of seminars that got branded as a scam, this is worthy of being optioned by Hollywood. And what’s more interesting is that it was those last two events, the failed book deal and the “scam” seminars, were what cemented Caroline as a mainstream figure—and those both occurred without Natalie’s doing. That was all Caroline.
But the assertion that Natalie is harming Caroline’s earning potential simply by telling, and selling, her story does not feel accurate to me. Because if it weren’t for Natalie’s essay, Caroline would not have a rebuttal to offer to Hollywood. Natalie has earning potential in selling her story, a continuation of the perspective she put forth in The Cut, but Caroline probably has even more potential by being able to present a different perspective. She would have no counterpoint to offer if Natalie hadn’t provided the initial point, so to speak. In fact, it’s because we have these somewhat competing narratives that any one of these individual stories is interesting. Even the fact that I’m still talking about this Cut essay weeks after the fact is because Caroline continues to rail against it.
(That said, maybe Caroline would have been happier not having to offer any perspective or narrative about her life or their friendship, but now has no choice but to play this game in order to derive some benefit from this situation. If that is the case, I understand her anger. To borrow from Taylor Swift, she didn’t choose to become a central figure in this narrative.)
Furthermore, according to Luis Paez-Pumar, who was at the Red Scare taping, Natalie offered Caroline a portion of her Netflix deal and Caroline turned it town.
She said Natalie offered to cut her into the Netflix deal she got for the story. But Caroline said no.
— Luis Paez-Pumar (@lppny) September 28, 2019
I wonder if she turned it down because, according to Caroline’s recent Instagrams, she is also in LA taking meetings, and I can imagine what those meetings are about.
If I had to answer Caroline’s unanswered question, I’d say her relationship with Natalie is equally parts symbiotic and parasitic. They both symbiotically benefit from dredging up this conflict and milking it for as long as they can. But, because nobody wants to watch or read a tale of female friendship that’s all sunshine, rainbows, compliments on each other’s writing skills, and mutual understanding, they both benefit from making this conflict as toxic and dramatic as possible, so in that way, it’s parasitic. They each have to make themselves out to be the victim of a parasitic friend in order to derive any gain from this story. And even if we do get competing movies, for all Caroline’s talk of the truth, I don’t think we’ll ever get it. Because I don’t think there is a truth. This story is messy, and sticky, and convoluted, just like their friendship.
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