I don’t know a ton about many influencers. I follow a lot of meme accounts and people I know, plus a few of the obvious ones (Kayla Itsines, Chiara Ferragni, Flavia Charallo, etc.). This is to say that I regularly don’t get the hype about a lot of these people. Talking and writing about their drama feels like waking up from a multi-year coma. Caroline Calloway is one such case. She has a lot of followers, and frankly, I didn’t understand why. She has the feed of pretty much any girl you went to college with who doesn’t care about her Instagram aesthetic—but the girl you went to college with would have at most 800 followers. Caroline has almost 800,000.
I first learned who she was in January of this year, when she was likened to a female Billy McFarland. Now, that I could get into. Right at the height of the Fyre Fest documentaries, as Anna Delvey was gearing up for trial, I had a thirst for more scams. So yeah, I was interested to read about an influencer who shirked a book deal, owed her publisher over a hundred grand, and then tried to charge $165/head for a series of workshops that promised participants vegan, non-dairy, gluten-free salads and ended with them being asked to bring a bag lunch. That was my introduction to Caroline.
After a series of cancellations that garnered national attention, Caroline did eventually hold her workshops, which she cheekily called “The Scam”. Anna Iovine described it to Vice as basically a creative writing workshop with white wine (that was purchased from nearby liquor stores while the event was going on), plus a meet-and-greet and photo opp. Hardly a one-of-a-kind event, but not exactly Fyre Festival. Since then, she mostly remained out of the news until earlier this week, when Caroline herself revealed on her Instagram that there was going to be an essay about her published in The Cut, written by none other than her own ex-best friend and former ghost writer, Natalie Beach.
For those who haven’t been following Caroline since the beginning, she and Natalie met their sophomore year of college, and quickly started working together. Once Caroline started her Instagram, Natalie ghost wrote her captions, and later, tried to help ghost write her memoir. I gather, mostly from Instagram comments and general internet chatter, that Natalie’s presence and existence was known to Caroline’s followers. While Caroline grew her account that, at its height, boasted over 800,000 followers (today she’s rocking with 786k), she was the face and Natalie was the voice. Or at least, Natalie helped craft it. Caroline even references Natalie in some of her old captions. The new part that was perhaps not known (certainly not to Caroline’s publishers, at least) was that Natalie was also the one crafting Caroline’s memoir, and that that memoir was more fiction than nonfiction.
So when news came out that Natalie would be telling her own story in The Cut, there was a freakout among Caroline Calloway stans, grifter enthusiasts, and Calloway herself. She started posting about the article about a week before, naturally apprehensive about what would be written about her. The day before the essay was released, she detailed a conversation with a NY Mag fact checker in (where else?) the captions of one of her posts.
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I just got off the phone with a fact checker from New York Magazine. She said that the article will come out today or tomorrow and that she can’t tell me who the editor is because she’s “not at liberty to say.” I didn’t even know that was a question I wasn’t allowed to ask. Right now I feel afraid. I am afraid of being judged for memories that I still haven’t forgiven myself for. I am afraid of being hated. I am afraid of feeling shame. This phone call lasted 45 minutes and it was awful. Her asking me about the most shameful ways I have hurt others and me repeating over and over again, “If Natalie remembers it, it must be true.” I don’t have a lot of memories from the four years I was increasingly addicted to Adderall. I know amphetamine abuse doesn’t cause memory loss. But memories are formed while you are sleeping and sleeping is the one thing I didn’t do during that time. My normal waking day was 72 hours. Like, I just had two periods of darkness during the normal day I would be awake. But I do know this: I had no concept during that time of how my actions affected others. Nothing I do or say or create now that I’m no longer addicted to Adderall will ever fix that. I am still learning how to live with this truth. The worst part wasn’t reliving my lowest moments with a stranger or knowing that these stories are about to be made very public any minute now. It was this question: “Natalie says the last time you saw each other you met up for lunch with the man she is going to marry and you were late.” I didn’t know she was engaged. I never thought I would find out like this, from a nymag fact-checker on the phone, before Natalie publishes an article about me. “If Natalie remembers it, it must be true.”
Caroline seemed nervous, preparing everyone for the worst. What would be revealed about her? The article dropped, and frankly? None of it surprises me. You should definitely read the whole thing, but basically, it reads like any tale of an unbalanced friendship: the charismatic, good-looking friend takes advantage of the shy, average-looking friend. Caroline cries over a gift Natalie gives her (#YalePlates), then one day mysteriously claims they were stolen. She locks Natalie out of their Airbnb on a trip to Amsterdam when she thought Natalie would be having a one night stand. In short, she acts like a pretty crappy friend, all while benefitting off of Natalie’s work. But the interesting part, though? From Natalie’s account, none of her involvement was coerced. There was never a point where Natalie wanted to quit and Caroline begged her to stay.
What’s happening right now is a small-grade sh*t storm between everyone who’s read The Cut article and Caroline, who is alternating between supporting Natalie and defending herself on Instagram. “If Natalie says it, it musts be true,” she repeats on refrain in the caption of a photo detailing her conversation with NY Mag’s fact checker. At this point, she hasn’t tried to deny Natalie’s accusations—she was apparently addicted to Adderall at the time and would stay up for 72-hour stretches, which she says probably impacted her memory. She also put the link to The Cut article in her bio, directing her followers right to it rather than trying to obscure it. These are either the actions of a true friend who’s remorseful for her actions and trying to make amends, or a very good PR maneuver. Or just someone who’s acting on pure emotion without a strategy. It’s hard to tell.
Natalie, for her part, doesn’t come out of this unscathed. The Cut readers are coming for in the comments section over her writing, her looks, and her inability to extract herself from what was clearly, to us outsiders with no personal investment, a toxic relationship. Caroline takes aim in particular at her for recounting a moment where Caroline may have been suicidal—Natalie recalls that Caroline forbade her from ghost writing any more of her memoir, threatening suicide if she continued. She posted a text conversation with either a NY Mag fact checker or editor about this line.
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TW: Suicide. I’ve never talked about the chapters of my life when I struggled with suicide on the internet before today and I didn’t want you to find out like this. But now you know. I’ve only read two lines of Natalie’s article so far—my plan is to read it for the first time tomorrow with my therapist. But my manager texted me this line of hers: “It’s been surreal watching this unfold from my desk job in Los Angeles, but I’m not surprised she’s taken an essay of mine that didn’t exist yet and turned it into a narrative for herself.” I wrote about Natalie’s upcoming article because I guessed that by using my access to the largest audience of people interested in Caroline Calloway—an audience only I have access to—I could ramp up anticipation. I hope impressions are through the fucking roof. Every boost helps. But ultimately I talked about what Natalie’s article meant to ME on this Instagram account because this is a space where I tell stories about ME. That’s the whole schtick here. I write about my life—and if I can make my art and express myself AND help my friends, I do. I don’t resent Natalie for revealing that I was suicidal in her essay. It’s not black or white. Both of these things are true: I wish people hadn’t found out like this AND Natalie’s stories deserve to be told. It must have been so hard for Natalie to have a friend who cared more about getting high than supporting her and didn’t really care about staying alive at all! I only found out about this line because @christinareaddd pointed it out to me. She’s sitting with me in my apartment right now with @p_izza220 . “So?” I said after she had finished reading it. “Yeah, um, the first thing that jumped out at me is that heard you on the phone with the fact-checking lady and this was the only thing you wanted clarified, but they didn’t fix it.” I knew she meant the suicide thing. She had been sitting next to me on the floor as I talked on the phone. Most of it had been: “If Natalie remembers it, it must be true.” And then: “Hold on. The thing about suicide…” I looked away from Christina as I said it. The lady from The Cut was nice and said she understands and she’d pass my message along.
She said: “I don’t resent Natalie for revealing that I was suicidal in her essay. It’s not black or white. Both of these things are true: I wish people hadn’t found out like this AND Natalie’s stories deserve to be told.”
On its face, it’s f*cked up to reveal that someone struggled with suicidal thoughts—regardless of whether or not that person was your friend. But that’s not a full picture. Even on Caroline’s own Instagram, the comments on the post are quick to point out the oversimplification of this statement.
“Girl, I’m sure that time was genuinely really hard for you,” wrote one commenter, “but that line in the article wasn’t about you being suicidal and doesn’t imply that you were actually going to take your life. It’s pretty clearly a shocking example of something you did that was manipulative and abusive, which you did in order to get Natalie and the publishers to give you want you wanted but wouldn’t for for.”
One commenter took it a step further. “You seem to imply that Natalie is the one who told your secret, that you were at one point suicidal. Except that you already put it in your own Instagram when the book deal fell through. You wrote in your revised proposal, that is pictured on your feed and has been for a while, that you were thinking of suicide because of an abusive friend. While having some secrets spilled is not fun, are they really secrets when you posted about it already?”
To sum it up, the gist of what’s happening here is two women who formed a friendship with a vastly unequal power dynamic had a falling out, and that fallout is playing out on the public stage. At press time, Caroline has yet to read The Cut article, but she posted on Instagram that she would be reading with her therapist and writing some sort of response.
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I feel like that photo of Meghan Markle’s father at a FedEx just before her wedding. Unfortunately I am not Meghan Markle in this similie, but her toxic sociopathic father! Is this what you came here for, new followers? He staged those photos and I took this selfie for my Instagram. Does that make me toxic? Is this proof that I have no control over my storytelling on Instagram? Is there a difference between “can’t stop” writing about myself on Instagram because I’m addicted to it and “won’t stop” because I find meaning in it and I refuse to quite just because other people don’t like the things I create or me? I honestly don’t know. I feel really weird right now. I just walked into a FedEx in downtown Manhattan and googled myself so I could print out a copy of Natalie’s article to read for the first time today with my therapist. I mean WHAT? this is an odd day. When I pulled up the news results for me I saw that this story had already been picked up by Jezebel, Business Insider, Cosmo… Even the New Haven Register. Last night my name was trending at third on Twitter in the United States. I don’t know what today will hold. It’s barely 11 AM. But I’ve already been awake for hours. I got up at the crack of dawn to go to pilates, spin class, and the sauna. Someone gave me wise advice last night and said: Whatever you do tomorrow, EXERCIZE. That one hour will affect the other 23 hours of your day. So I made it two hours because I wanted to push myself and now my mind is feeling loose and light and bright. After therapy’s done I’ll beginning writing my response to her essay. I have some things to say.
Caroline Calloway has been lumped in with some serious fraudsters, but is that really an accurate depiction? Parts of Natalie’s story seemed like they could have been ripped straight out of My Friend Anna, Rachel DeLoache Williams’ memoir of her friendship with the infamous Soho grifter (the wealth inequity, the meek friend captivated like a moth to a flame by the confident friend’s glow and entitlement, the buckling of the friendship on an international trip). Still, to call her a straight-up Anna Delvey is a bit of an oversimplification. There’s the obvious detail that Caroline didn’t exactly defraud anyone to the tune of millions of dollars—yes, she spent hundreds of thousands of what was supposed to be her book advance, though she said that she’s working out a deal with the publisher to pay that back. But when her tour was clearly a fail, she issued refunds, even to people who had already attended the New York events. She did deceive her followers and publisher by claiming she happened upon Instagram fame on a lark, when in reality she implemented a clear strategy, and bought followers, in order to gain an initial Instagram presence. And her characterization in The Cut essay, plus the way she’s spiraling on social media now, don’t exactly help defend against claims that she is manipulative.
I’m not on Caroline’s side—I’m not on anyone’s side, really. She’s a rich white girl who got a book deal even though she apparently couldn’t write, and earned a reputation as a scammer when she couldn’t even scam. Even Natalie admits in her essay that if Caroline is a scammer, her first mark is herself. As much as I want to call Caroline the next millennial grifter icon, I think this is just the story of a sh*tty rich friend who may have narcissistic qualities. Part of the reason this back-and-forth is so captivating is that we’ve probably all been the Natalie to someone’s Caroline. But, just like I don’t understand Caroline’s following, I also don’t understand why this is that big a deal. I guess because it whets our appetite for 2019’s favorite pastimes: fraudsters, influencers, and general messiness. But if you remove the Instagram followers and the book deal, it’s a pretty ordinary story about a pretty ordinary happening—that is, two friends having a blowout and going no-contact. I can’t blame The Cut for capitalizing on it (in fact, I’m a little salty I couldn’t do it), but I can question what the hell is going on in all of our lives (mine included) that we are so invested in this.