In May, the first time she apologised for a history of cyberbullying, the model, television personality and Twitter celebrity Chrissy Teigen accidentally said the quiet part loudly. “I have worked so hard to give you guys joy and be beloved,” she tweeted. “The feeling of letting you down is nearly unbearable, truly.”
Teigen had been accused by the model Courtney Stodden of sending them abusive private messages on Twitter in 2011, shortly after Stodden, then 16, became famous for marrying the 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison. “She wouldn’t just publicly tweet about wanting me to take ‘a dirt nap’ but would privately DM me and tell me to kill myself,” Stodden told The Daily Beast. “Things like, ‘I can’t wait for you to die.’” While Teigen apologised for her behaviour, declaring that the resurfaced tweets and bullying claims left her “mortified and sad”, others have since begun accusing her of sending similarly abusive tweets, among them Lindsay Lohan’s mother Dina and the fashion designer Michael Costello. Other mean tweets about celebrities and politicians, many written almost a decade ago, have also resurfaced.
In a further apology published on Monday (14 June), Teigen wrote that she’d been in a “hole of deserved global punishment”, and admitted to crafting a “snarky”, “cruel” Twitter persona for attention. “I thought it made me cool and relatable if I poked fun at celebrities,” she wrote, adding that she cultivated “meanness masquerading as a kind of casual, edgy humour”.
It was yet another public self-flagellation from Teigen, who has repeatedly quit, returned, quit again, and returned again to a social media platform that has seemed to cause her little but misery in the last 18 months. None of which would have happened if she hadn’t tried so hard to be the most chill, relatable and “beloved” celebrity on the internet. It was always a doomed endeavour.
Teigen’s greatest fame has been rooted in the internet. Before Twitter turned her into an online superstar, Teigen was a former swimsuit model best known for being the wife of singer-songwriter John Legend, who she married in 2013. Her penchant for witty viral tweets led to a busy TV career – she co-hosted Lip Sync Battle and Bring the Funny and had a comedy show on the short-lived Quibi app – as well as a hit cookbook and a number of lucrative brand endorsements. But her online persona always had a veil of fraudulence to it. On Twitter, Teigen acted like “one of us”, joining in with memes, poking fun at celebrities and talking about reality television – yet simultaneously could be seen palling around with the Obamas and Beyoncé. Try as she might to be ordinary, she demonstrably wasn’t.
That contradiction was a recipe for disaster. Celebrity was always, and always will be, about the theatrical and the otherworldly. The best stars embrace their existence in a very different ecosystem than our own. It’s why the slow, soapy unfolding of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s romantic reunion has been so expertly played – there were blurry photographs of the pair hanging out with one another, rumours of a holiday together, Lopez appearing to wear Affleck’s clothing, and then finally, like a grand finale weeks after the show first premiered, the paparazzi oh-so-conveniently captured the pair kissing in a restaurant. Actual statements from the pair have been non-existent. Instead it has been about image, perception and slightly performative teasing. They know they are being seen, they know we want to know more, and they’ll give it to us when the time is right.
It’s an approach to fame that has been in place for decades, and has survived countless shifts in the celebrity landscape along the way. It’s also inherently less risky than Teigen’s approach. By being such an active participant in many of our daily lives on social media – even if you never followed Teigen on Twitter, many of her viral tweets will have inevitably popped up on our timelines over the years – the times she got it wrong were heightened. Our emotional responses to her failings, screw-ups or vaguely annoying musings became far more dramatic than they would have done otherwise. She could have, and probably should have, stayed “regular famous”, rather than famous but “regular”.
So where does Teigen go from here? One of the sadder elements of the whole affair is that Teigen can’t seem to let go of a platform that may have enhanced her fame and career opportunities, but has otherwise been bleak for her. In her words, it brought out the worst parts of her character, her cyberbullying a reminder of her “asshole past”. In 2020, she said that the right-wing trolls baselessly linking her to Jeffrey Epstein had left her in fear for her family’s safety. Today she is a regular target for right-wing Twitter personalities cheering on her every setback. Her recent social media presence has been apology after apology.
What is she even getting from social media at this point? In her latest apology, Teigen recalled the “fun” of her earliest days on Twitter, adding that the platform helped people “all over the world to learn, create and find kindred spirits”. Teigen obviously made a lot of money, and captured a lot of attention, via social media, but it’s probably for the best if she asked herself whether it was truly worth it. Or whether that blissful social media utopia she recalls and memorialises even exists anymore. And, truthfully speaking, whether it ever really did.