Opinion

Lucy Mangan: “I can’t help but admire Caroline Calloway”

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Lucy Mangan
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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15: Caroline Calloway attends the 10th Annual Shorty Awards at PlayStation Theater on April 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Shorty Awards)

Commentary around the Caroline Calloway – Natalie Beach story is far too hectic, says our columnist. 

So, which are you – a Natalie or a Caroline? If you have been conscious at all over the past few weeks, you’ll have an answer ready.

You will have absorbed, if only by cultural osmosis, enough of the story of the Instagram-star-cumsort-of-scammer Caroline Calloway and her friend-cum-amanuensiscum-teller-of-all Natalie Beach, as written on US website The Cut, to know which side of the divide you fall on. Grifter or grafter? Golden girl or handmaid? Presider over the feast or pecker of crumbs that fall?

I am a Natalie at heart. Although age and an increasingly cankered heart has rendered me immune to all blandishments and unsusceptible to hero worship, I’m certainly lucky that I never met a Caroline when I was younger (although I suspect that sloth, a large part of my make-up, would have saved me from throwing myself entirely into her service as Natalie did. Small mercies). 

Still. I have spent my life gazing in awe at the people who fall into the Calloway camp. The people who can command attention just by entering a room, who can charm birds out of the trees. People who have style, glamour and charisma but inspire devotion instead of resentment in the hearts of the drab little sparrows who surround them. I’ve watched those gilded beings with yearning. What a life!

In severe cases, of course, as the Calloway-Beach relationship proves, though you may bask in their radiance, you may also discover the shadow side of such a being. In Beach’s recollection of their friendship (or symbiotic/ parasitic connection, depending where your sympathies fall) seven years on, she sees Calloway as something closer to a succubus than friend, a narcissist who sucked her dry, exploiting Beach’s need for emotional connection and money to help Calloway build a shiny online presence to parlay into real life success, before it eventually became beyond even her chameleonic powers to sustain.

In Beach’s essay, naturally, but in much of the consequent commentary too, it seems we’re meant to sympathise unreservedly with the sparrow and loathe the star. But I find myself conflicted.

Obviously (obviously) Calloway is a monstrous extreme of all sorts admiring parts of her. This may be my inner Natalie talking, but I don’t think so. It’s more the decades of experience that have crushed her and allowed me to see that much of what Calloway has is valuable. Toxic when concentrated, perhaps, but useful if we were able to distribute it among the rest of the (female, in particular) population. Her drive. Her ambition. Her lack of apology. Her ability to know what she wants and power towards it. 

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In Beach I see (among many other things I wish we had space to get into here, including the fact that her natural inclinations were aggravated by her relative lack of privilege) a willingness to subjugate the self, to deny one’s own dreams, to sit in a comfort zone and gaze wistfully at others brave enough to leave theirs.

And in the chatter around the Calloway-Beach story and the uncritical sympathy for the latter, I see more oblique pressure being brought to bear on those who possess the former’s “unfeminine” traits and an unconscious rewarding of the supposedly female virtue of self-erasure.

Fellow Natalies of the world, by all means rejoice that we’re not monsters of ego and entitlement. But do stop asking what you can do for them, and start asking what the model they offer can do for you.     

Images: Getty, Instagram

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Lucy Mangan

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