Life

“The Caroline Calloway exposé reveals the problem with society’s take on female friendship”

The American influencer has come under fire for passing off her best friend’s writing as her own but the real issue is society’s view of female friendships, says Alicia Lutes.

Writing about a situation you don’t want to give more air time to could actually be seen as an act of toxic codependency in itself. You need the situation in order to make the larger point, but in order to do that you have to highlight the ugliness of it. Which is why it feels necessary to address a story I hate: that of shamed influencer Caroline Calloway and her former best friend-slash-hidden-collaborator, Natalie Beach. Despite a desire to steer clear from stories that generally rankle me this much, the situation and conversation around it are so indicative of society’s romanticization of codependence within female friendships.

Dear god Hollywood, do not make this a movie or a TV show. Please.

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Who is Caroline Calloway?

For those who’ve remained unaware so far, Calloway is an Instagram influencer whose medium is feelings made words. Though working on a visual platform, the bulk of her posts revolve around her impressively long and seemingly intimate captions – which it turns out, were mostly written by Beach. She is seen by her fans as honest and open, and has the follower count to prove a legion that are at the very least fascinated by what she considers her work: performative updates of her life on Instagram (and sometimes charging for it). But people loved what her page had to offer: so much so she went on to get a (failed) book deal and undertake a (failed) tour of glorified meet-and-greets costing $165 a pop and well, the rest you can look up yourself. Her friendship with Beach — author of the exposé people are talking about with schadenfreudist glee — was based on their shared dreams of success as writers. It’s why they worked together so passionately on social media posts they felt mattered, and whether you agree with that or not, it worked.

The sort of codependency on display in Beach’s piece only exists for a certain monied, enabled type. (As comedian and host Desus Nice said on Twitter, “this caroline calloway story is white twitter’s popeye sandwich.”) But at any level, codependency like theirs (before it goes off the rails) is often glamorized in films and TV. How many films featuring two best female friends doing everything together, in constant contact, can you name? Probably several without thinking. Too many times we see female friendships depicted and extolled as “different, special, and complicated” in a poetic fashion that is actually just codependence. And so the story goes: two women drawn into each other as friends and equals who start to play into and enable each other’s worst inclinations are nothing unless together. Fear, loneliness, insecurity, and companionship all come into play. Mental health issues make it worse. 

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Toxic view of female friendships

Nobody should be so reliant on another person for their own sense of self, esteem, worth, and well-being — it’s immature and toxic. Broad City, in its series finale, came to the conclusion that Abbi and Ilana’s relationship was actually inhibiting their growth as individuals. In earlier episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (which also recently ended), we saw it play out with the titular Rebecca and her best friend Paula. We have started to question and needle the notion that these best, truest sort of female friendships are actually based on socialized ideas that don’t help anybody. But it took a long time to get here. It probably doesn’t help that the vast majority of media (aka the thing that largely shape our socialized norms and expectations) about women is made by men. So there is certainly a case for more stories told about codependency from a female perspective, but what would this story give us that films like Ingrid Goes West, Always Shine and A Simple Favor haven’t done (extremely well) already?

Because unlike all of those stories, the issues and situations between Calloway and Beach are very real. Wouldn’t turning Calloway’s tale into a movie or TV show ultimately give her exactly what she wants but doesn’t need: art about her existence without having to do any work? In a way it confirms there’s a positive relatability to acting like this, enabling yourself like this, being illogical like this, and further validates the scam Calloway is — as Beach roughly put it in her essay — playing on herself. Also, let’s just say it: aren’t we tired of stories about toxic relationships between well-off white women? Just because it has the potential to make some money doesn’t mean that anyone should. It feels like yet another confirmation of the benefits of codependency, so long as you play it out one of the three ways society has preordained for you. Stop glorifying the toxicity.

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In many ways, codependency seems like a fairly logical human response to the cruelty of the world in which we live — but that doesn’t mean it helps anybody, either. Constantly living in context to another person dissolves a person’s sense of individuality. It’s just that there hasn’t been a lot of issue taken with that until recently because “that’s just women!”. What’s worse is that there doesn’t seem to be a counter-narrative: either you’re a codependent girly-girl or a tomboy who’s only friends with the guys. As a kid, I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have a best friend like the ones you see on-screen. And there’s more than a few women who’ve similarly felt there must be something wrong with them if they didn’t have a do-everything, go-everywhere, tell-everything, around-all-the-time best friend. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized what a toxic vacuum such a relationship could have been in my life had I worked for it harder or assumed that was the norm for all friendships.

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Have we been played?

Frankly, I feel sad for both parties involved – I’m neither #TeamCaroline or #TeamNatalie. Manipulative, oblivious, mean, sad, outrageous, delusional, entitled, patronizing: all of these are things I felt about both women involved while reading this story. I wonder what is up with Calloway’s parents and where they’ve been in all of this. And there’s an extremely cynical part of my brain that thinks maybe this whole thing was actually yet another scam, one they concocted together to give a jolt to both of their careers. Maybe they’ll even say it was a modern-day play (told through the media) about how much society loves to watch fighting women: reinventing the meta-narrative, or something like that. That this is even a thought that passed my mind makes me cringe and want to give up on the internet. But what else do women do in a world largely built against them? They improvise and figure out a way to game the system, which: totally fair. But is this methodology how we want people benefiting from it? Please, no.

Image: Getty

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