Caroline Calloway can be described as one of the first Instagram influencers. That word, basically meaningless prior to social media, is now a catalyst for either envy or mockery: You hate the people who make their living off of maintaining sponsorships from beauty brands and posting photos, but you would secretly jump at the chance to do it yourself -- what a life! But perhaps don’t take Calloway’s lead. From what we can glean from details of a botched book deal, scammed conference and, now, an ex-friend telling all, the ~influencer life~ may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
Caroline Calloway is a 27-year-old New York City transplant from Virginia. She studied at the University of Cambridge and has 800,000 followers on Instagram. For all intents and purposes, she’s one of many millennials who has found success and a career in the newfound field of social media. She considers herself a writer and
amateur art historian and gained popularity for her diary entry-esque photo captions.
You’ve heard her name for a couple of reasons, one being her infamous book deal. Calloway’s photos and captions on Instagram read like a memoir, and they ultimately led to an advance up to $500,000 from Flatiron Books to write an actual memoir.
The book, with the working title “And We Were Like,” was supposed to be about her life at the University of Cambridge and her rise to Instagram fame, but Calloway had difficulty putting pen to page and ultimately decided not to write it at all. Calloway missed deadline after deadline, and the deal was pulled. She owned the publisher $100,000, and they are, apparently, still in talks about that.
Perhaps Calloway should have stayed out of the spotlight after that. Alas, she was fated to make another mistake.
Often compared to Fyre Festival, the Billy McFarland-led travesty in the Bahamas in April 2017, Calloway’s Creativity Workshop was described as seminar on how to create a more innovative, productive life that you can be proud of in the way of art. (Read: It was a seminar on how to build an Instagram brand.) However, it never came to fruition.
Calloway sold $165 tickets to her nation-wide, four-hour workshop, which would include refreshments, a journal, lunch, a care package and...orchid crowns. Leading up to the dates, she publicly asked for free labor from photographers (later saying she’d pay them), urged attendees to bring their own lunches instead and polled her followers to see if those in other cities would consider traveling to NYC instead of having the seminar in their respective cities. After the D.C. seminar, attendees took to social media to document how much of Calloway’s promises for the workshop were broken, and she canceled the remaining dates. This, obviously, gave her a reputation as a scammer.
Is Caroline Calloway a scam artist? Well, her ghostwriter Natalie Beach has some things to say about that.
Her entire story is getting blown up.
Natalie Beach, a former friend and employee? partner? editor? of Calloway’s, published an article with The Cut from New York Magazine this week that blew up Calloway’s whole schtick. In a lengthy post, which Calloway was aware was coming out, Beach talks about her friendship with Calloway in its entirety, from when they met to when she realized she needed to separate herself from the hoax.
Beach and Calloway's partnership started by Beach basically managing Calloway's Instagram page, writing and editing photo captions and acting as a makeshift photographer. It only spiraled from there.
Among Calloway’s shortcomings (which are recounted in detail by Beach in the article), let’s go over the notable ones.
First, Beach claims that Calloway’s Instagram following did not start as organically as she’s led everyone to believe. According to Beach, Calloway bought most of the followers for her Instagram account, and her quick shot to fame was due to advice from literary professionals who told her she needed a fan base in order to sell a book.
“And so Caroline made one online, taking out ads designed to look like posts to promote her account and buying tens of thousands of followers.”
While Beach was living with Calloway in the U.K., trying to piece together the outline of a book for her friend, she realized that “memoir” would actually be “fiction.”
“We had sold the proposal based off a false number; wouldn’t there be consequences? If the bedrock of Caroline’s Instagram account wasn’t true, then was any of it?” Beach asked herself in the article. “But to Caroline the ploy was a statement of intent: She was a self-made woman exploiting a new form of media. ‘Women spend too much time apologizing for promoting their work,’ she told me.”
That, and a lot of Calloway’s book was the result of heavy collaboration, if you can call it that, and not, in fact, Calloway’s own, organic work. Turns out, the reason she struggled to write it was because she hadn’t quite written anything on her own thus far.
“My involvement was uncredited, as the entire selling point of Caroline was that she was an ingénue, and ingénues don’t have sleep-deprived collaborators living in deep Brooklyn,” Beach wrote. “I knew my job was to be present but invisible, but it still hurt to hear secondhand about the high-powered meetings, the gushing over pages I half-wrote.”
Leading up to the article’s publication, Calloway went, for lack of a better term, nuts on her social media accounts. Besides posting about her knowledge of the article, desire to have Beach back as a friend and her Adderall addiction, she even went back to take photos of her old posts and the captions in question to systematically go over all of her past Instagram posts, detailing what she did and didn’t write. Do we condemn her for the twist she’s trying to put on the reveal, or do we commend her for trying to get out in front of it? Beach, for one, expected it: “I’m not surprised she’s taken an essay of mine that didn’t exist yet and turned it into a narrative for herself.”
Beach’s essay does well in the way of laying Calloway’s failings out on the table, emphasizing that their friendship and partnership is well past over while still painting her as a victim of the era. Beach makes the point of her essay deeper than the fraudulent elements of Calloway’s life and career, calling out the not-so-rare toxicity of friendships like hers with Calloway.
Beach discusses how Calloway and the life she represented (not the life she actually lived, let’s be clear) was enigmatic, beautiful and energizing; Beach felt privileged to be in Calloway’s circle, even nearing desperation to get back into it when they’d drifted apart. But Calloway’s behavior proved that Beach was nothing more than a catalyst for the professional endeavors that Calloway wanted to pursue and couldn’t on her own.
“To my other friends, I described her as someone you couldn’t count on to remember a birthday, but the one I’d call if I needed a black-market kidney,” Beach wrote. “Being the foil to a hot girl was taking its toll, and writing someone else’s love story was even harder...And there I was, once again knocked flat by the force of her praise, her self-mythologizing and raw sentimentality.”
This essay is Beach’s official breakup from Calloway, and it brings to light the often-overlooked toll of social media and the influencer age.
What do we think about it?
There’s a lot we can fault Caroline Calloway for -- deceiving her publisher, sticking to fake stories, throwing out those Yale plates -- but Beach’s writing, combined with Calloway’s responses thus far, really only prove that she’s simply a young girl who wanted so badly to find her way that she made some mistakes.
It’s easy to be young, stupid and desperate, but this essay publicizes how social media and the age of the internet we’re in right now can destroy a person. Calloway wanted so badly to be one type of person, that it seems like she’s given up a lot of the person she is, instead opting to use her closest friends and fail what fanbase she does organically have.
That being said, I’m glad this essay came out. People like Natalie Beach are everywhere, stampeded by people around them who don’t see their value. What Beach has done by publishing this article isn’t just exposing Calloway -- that would have, and has, happened on its own. It’s more so a look at how easily someone can be bulldozed into hanging on to a toxic situation.
What does everyone else think?
Well, for how many fake friends Calloway had on her Instagram account, it sounds like no one really knew who she was before this all went down.
And now that they do know about her, they couldn’t care less. Turns out, this “scandal” is juuust interesting enough to read up on, but will likely wither in talkability in the coming days. Which is hilarious, considering Calloway’s whole life is based on being well-liked and talked out.
Besides what Calloway did with her Instagram account and writings, though, there are the big-hearted commenters out there who are more concerned with the lopsided friendship between her and Beach -- and they relate to it.
Others are critiquing the overt privilege that this whole story revolves around, which I’d say is a fair take.
Need a drink?
We’re sipping the Imbibed Influencer:
- 1 part pink wine
- 2 parts White Claw
- 1 color wheel of macarons
- 500,000 bought followers
- Don’t shake, it’s too messy already