On Tuesday night, the Cut published an article by a woman named Natalie Beach about her toxic friendship with an influencer named Caroline Calloway.
For some people on the internet, this article was akin to the Pentagon Papers or the Super Bowl. They had been anticipating it for days, and had been furiously refreshing the Cut every day hoping it would be published.
However, a lot of other people were completely confused and had no idea who Calloway, let alone Beach, even were.
If you are one of those people, I am here to help.
The Natalie article saga is just the latest chapter in the story of Calloway, one of the most popular, gossiped-about, and snarked-on influencers on Instagram. Her popularity or notoriety, depending on your point of view, speaks to this particular moment in time of influencer culture in a way few others do. It also shows how the online persona of an influencer can be created, changed, or destroyed by one viral “scandal,” and how that persona can become larger than life.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. So, who is Calloway anyway?
Calloway is 27 years old and grew up in Virginia. She describes herself as a dramatic child who at 17 changed her legal name from Caroline Gotschall to Caroline Calloway (her middle name), because she said she thought “Calloway will look better on book covers someday.”
Calloway began posting on Instagram in 2012, when she was a student at NYU. As she told Man Repeller last year, she had always dreamed of being a writer, and saw Instagram as a good platform to share her life story.
She began sharing photos of her life along with long, incredibly detailed captions, using the hashtag #adventuregrams. As she told Man Repeller, “I began by writing an autobiographical story that carried across multiple Instagram posts and introduced different people in my life as ‘characters.'”
The point was, she said, to essentially write an autobiography about her life as a twentysomething millennial using this new social platform. Her ultimate goal was to parlay these captions into a book deal for a memoir about her life and relationships.
Over time, Calloway’s following grew from about 210,000 in September 2014 to more than 800,000 in 2017. She began school at Cambridge University, and continued to document her experiences in love, life, and travel with her trademark long captions. She soon began to receive media coverage for being, as ABC News called her, “the envy of social media.”
In 2016, she announced to her followers that she had scored a book deal with Flatiron Publishing. It was to be a memoir called And We Were Like, Publishers Weekly reported at the time. Calloway has claimed in interviews that she had received an advance of nearly $500,00 for the project (Beach claimed in her essay the actual number was $375,000).
However, Calloway’s book deal soon fell apart. In a post in September 2017, she wrote that she had pulled out because she felt the proposal she had sold was a “lie” that didn’t represent who she actually was.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t think readers could handle the full interior world of a deeply human heroine. Or that I didn’t want to let you in. It wasn’t even that I thought I had to make myself into a breezy, uncomplicated role model in order for publishers to publish me! The truth is that I used to be too afraid to tell it,” she told her followers.
Calloway told Man Repeller she chose to “back out of the contract and owe lots of money” to the publisher rather than write the book she had promised them.
“I more or less stopped posting on Instagram at that point. It was a really painful time for me,” she said. “It was so hard to have come so close to something that I had dreamed of my entire life and trip over the finish line, but the idea of spending the rest of my life signing copies of a memoir that wasn’t about the real me broke my heart.”
The implosion of her book deal was Calloway’s first scandal, but it wouldn’t be the one she became best known for. That happened earlier this year, when Calloway’s name forever became linked with the trendiest term in pop culture right now: a scam.
At some point, Calloway moved back to New York. She continued to publish on Instagram (her posts from this period have almost all been archived), but avoided most mainstream press attention.
In December 2018, Calloway announced to her followers she was going to host a creativity workshop in the spring that fans could attend in New York. For $165, fans could meet with Calloway, receive a care package, and hear directly from the influencer herself. After getting some good responses, Calloway announced she was expanding the workshop into a series of tours all over the US.
The workshops came under scrutiny, though, when journalist Kayleigh Donaldson began to document the lead-up to Calloway’s first planned workshop. She called the event (via a GIF) a scam, saying that Calloway was charging a huge amount of money for a “‘workshop’ she admits she wrote in one day.”
“I think it’s categorical bullshit that nobody is talking about & that we glorify this ‘influencer’ nonsense,” Donaldson wrote.
Keep in mind, this was all going on during a period where scams were Very Hot. The summer of 2018 was dubbed the “summer of scam” after the story of Anna Delvey went viral, with people obsessed with the infamous grifter. Netflix and Hulu were preparing in mid-January to release their competing documentaries on the Fyre Festival, quite possibly the greatest scam story ever told. That May, John Carreyrou released Bad Blood, his definitive book on the Theranos scam. The college admissions scandal was right around the corner.
So when people online and reporters heard about Calloway’s workshop tour woes, the whiff of a possible scammer paired with Calloway’s persona as a white, privileged, New York City millennial drew them to her like a shark to blood in the water.
As BuzzFeed News explained at the time, Calloway canceled most of her tour and refunded fans after Donaldson’s tweets went viral. Many of the things fans were promised, such as personal letters to each attendee, a flower crown, and a care package, either did not come to fruition or, as one reporter in attendance wrote, fell woefully short of expectations.
Calloway also seemed unprepared for planning an event of this size. In one memorable Instagram story, she freaked out when she realized how large an order of 1,200 mason jars, which she planned to give to the attendees, would be. She also wrote on Instagram about being stressed and told attendees if they expected “a corporate level of event planning,” she would refund them.
Pretty soon, the story was everywhere. Calloway’s name was linked with “scam” or “scammer” all over the internet. You can even fill out a bracket, made by Mashable, to crown her the “best scammer ever” if you want.
Calloway told BuzzFeed News she wasn’t a scammer, just disorganized and “dumb.” She also said that the two New York events that did occur were, in her mind, a success.
“I take full responsibility with what I did wrong and am humbled by the criticism of me,” she said.
Since then, Calloway has embraced her viral notoriety as a “scammer.” She references it often, and has compared the pain she has experienced to getting diagnosed with a horrible disease. She sold hats mocking things people called her online and has started selling her artwork. She also launched a Patreon.
In August, Calloway hosted a new New York workshop that she named “The Scam.” She invited attendees to “Come make friends. Hang out with me. Work on your art. Laugh about art. Eat salad on the floor. Drink oat milk. Take photos with flowers in our hair. Consider pain. Discuss self-love. Be scammed.”
A Vice reporter who snuck into the event under a fake name described the event as a group of talented attendees, adding that they brought artwork and writing, and shared ideas. At the end, Calloway shared her creative process and offered an opportunity for a photo op. The reporter concluded that Calloway is “an extreme example of the facade that is influencer culture.”
The article and other coverage of the “Scam” event only fueled the mob of people clamoring for more gossip about Calloway. So when she announced her former friend was about to write an exposé about her for the Cut, everyone lost it.
Calloway’s response to knowing the article was imminent was interesting. For the week leading up to its publication on Tuesday, she posted about it almost constantly, at some points begging the Cut to drop it and speculating why they had not. She also consistently praised Beach’s writing, showering her with compliments.
When the essay finally dropped, it was explosive.
In it, Beach claims that she was a ghostwriter for Calloway’s Instagram account and it was she, not Calloway, who had written many of the long, detailed Instagram captions that catapulted Calloway to online fame. She also claims to have worked extensively on Calloway’s failed book proposal, saying Calloway promised her 35% of the profits for her help. Beach also claimed that Calloway had bought followers in not long after she launched her account, meaning her rise to popularity was not as organic as she had claimed.
Eventually the friendship imploded along with the book proposal, after Beach says Calloway became “a girl living with one fork, no friends, and multiple copies of Prozac Nation.” Beach said the two hadn’t spoken in two years, until she told Calloway about the Cut essay.
The essay drew substantial praise on the internet for its thoughtful prose about the difficulties of a young woman losing herself in a toxic friendship. It also has led many, many more people to become obsessed with Calloway’s story, her scamming, and maybe even Calloway herself. Calloway has gained about 3,000 new followers since Tuesday, according to Social Blade.
True to form, Calloway has not shied away from the controversy. She has posted six Instagrams about it in the past 24 hours. In her latest, she promised, “After therapy’s done I’ll beginning writing my response to her essay. I have some things to say.”
The reaction to the essay has been polarizing. Despite people calling her a scammer, a grifter, or worse, Calloway has almost 1 million fans and rabid followers who watch her every move. Some of those followers genuinely like her, and are sending her messages of love and support.
“You are so loved and so supported. this is hard, but you are strong. we can do hard things.❤️” wrote one on Instagram.
If we’ve learned anything from Calloway’s previous scandals, she doesn’t run away from them. She leans in hard, she writes constantly, and she turns her past, present, and future into content.
The only question is, how many more people will become obsessed?