Sigh. The internet is mad at Chrissy Teigen—again. This time, the model/cookbook author/consummate Twitter influencer, famous for her relatable™ style of social media posting, tried to play the ever-popular quote-tweet game. “What’s the most expensive thing you’ve eaten that you thought sucked?” she asked her 13 million followers on Wednesday. Her personal pick: “One time John [Legend, her husband] and I were at a restaurant and the waiter recommended a nice Cabernet. We got the bill and it was 13,000 dollars. HOW DO YOU CASUALLY RECOMMEND THAT WINE. we didn’t even finish it and it had been cleared!!!”
Commence the usual fray, with some people infuriated at Teigen’s comment (in a pandemic, you say this??), and others defending her for sharing her anecdote. (Which, it is worth noting, is a story from her pre-pandemic life.) Summing up a lot of people’s feelings was this tweet from writer Andray Domise: “I had to send money to a stranger today—a good chunk of the savings that I’ve only now been able to scrape together in the couple months since my partner found work—to stop them from being unhoused. Meanwhile this doofus is laughing about spending 13 racks on accident.” Others jumped in, pointing to Teigen’s right to spend what she’s got—after all, she’s never hidden her wealth—and to be more considerate of her recent tough times after a pregnancy loss. Writer Roxane Gay added: “The people y’all love to hate on here are disproportionately women. Might be worth some reflection.”
This is all pretty exhausting—Twitter loves to hate as fiercely and for as long as it can—but this latest backlash came with a potent class-war edge to it that feels unique. For all her awkward, anxious, cookie-craving authenticity, Teigen’s every-girl image can’t hold up to the stress of the pandemic. As Amanda Hess wrote for the New York Times way back in March: “Among the social impacts of the coronavirus is its swift dismantling of the cult of celebrity.” Even in the pandemic’s infancy, people were sharpening pitchforks, infuriated by the many tweets and ’grams from celebrities locked down in fancy houses, their perfect faces telling us, “We’re all in this together.” What, the rest of the world suddenly said, do you mean, “we?”
Since Hess diagnosed this shift in the consciousness, several celebrities active on social media have found out how sensitive everyone has gotten about wealth. In November, an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians aired that featured Kim complaining about having to take care of her children alone, after Kanye got COVID. Only someone used to having multiple nannies would be unfamiliar with the problem of kids who won’t let you pee in peace, viewers pointed out. In December, Cardi B asked Twitter whether she should buy a purse that cost $88,000, and got immediate pushback, characterizing the question as insensitive when so many people were out of money. She responded by pointing to her charitable donations that year, and explaining that she doesn’t have any “celeb friends” who might give her advice on such a purchase. Eventually, exasperatedly, she got confrontational with the haters: “Go cry about it.”
The examples of Twitter targets I have mentioned so far are all women. Is Gay correct? Am I—are all the angry people—acting just a bit misogynistic for being up in arms about an expensive bottle of wine, when Lil Uzi Vert just got a $24 million pink diamond implanted in his forehead? It’s impossible to swear that you’re not speaking out of internalized misogyny, because that stuff hides way deep down within, but I think the problem here is that it’s often female celebrities who craft public personas out of so-called relatability. Whether that’s because of society’s expectation that women make themselves accessible and likable in spite of their true nature is a larger debate. Either way, in pandemic times, that mode of personal connection between rich people and the unstable masses is increasingly untenable.
But Teigen in particular is used to causing a fracas on Twitter, long before lockdown. She has a history of coming off as one of the gals, only to upend the lovefest by posting things that sound, to others, a little bit off—including some jokes that have made it all too clear to her followers that her wealth turns problems that would be financially devastating for normies into minor annoyances. Wealth inequality is forever a point of friction in our society, and Teigen’s Twitter dramas have often piqued that latent frustration in many of us who don’t live quite so comfortably. Events that Teigen’s shared from her personal life over the past year have made the gulf between her world, in which every sharp corner is sanded off by wealth, and our crappy hellscape—in which nobody cares how anxious you are or who you lost recently; get back to work—very clear. She is not the girl next door that we like to think she is when she is making us laugh with poop jokes or delighting us with family-friendly recipes. She is the woman in a giant house tucked inside a gated community somewhere far, far, far away from the rest of us.
A lot of Teigen’s recent social media presence has been colored by what happened to her last September, when Teigen lost a pregnancy at 20 weeks; by her account, the aftermath has been physically and mentally rough. She won praise for her vulnerability in sharing her story, and it’s continued to be a topic on her timeline in the months since. Grief is something that is legitimately relatable during a time as unpredictable and heavy as this one.
But I’ve still found it jarring to witness the way that money has eased her through these difficult months, at a time when so many people have had to suffer and recover with no help at all. Two incidents stand out to me: In October, around Halloween, Teigen shared a photo of herself in her home, in a robe and towel, being tended to by a private nurse dressed up as a medieval plague doctor. (Response: a private nurse? Not Teladoc, if you’re lucky?* Hm.) In January, Teigen said that her therapist had told her she needed to have something to do “just for me,” so she had decided to get into the very pricey hobby of horseback riding. (Horses? Not, like, 20 minutes of online yoga, somehow pried out of a relentless daily schedule of work and child care? Hm.)
Teigen tried to excuse her rich-person behavior when people responded with disdain to the horseback riding in particular. She demonstrated then some self-awareness in her presentation—as well as reiterated a tendency toward playing the victim.
And now, the $13,000 wine story. Striking back against the litany of critical takes and goofs, Teigen pointed to her poor mental health as of late, implying that the people critiquing her tweet were being unnecessarily cruel. But that kind of response can be tough to swallow, when 75 percent of people reading Teigen’s content probably feel like warmed over spit most of the time themselves. “Celebrities have really missed the memo that ‘omg I wish I was that wealthy’ has gone from a fun frivolous fantasy to the thing that makes the celebrity more likely to survive a pandemic than you,” one Twitter user, @ace_defective, pointed out astutely.
Teigen also tried to defend herself by saying: “Not everything I say on my twitter is going to be relatable to you because it is my life and my twitter and my stories.” Of course not, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that this isn’t the long game she’s been playing. For years, Teigen has benefited from that casual vibe she projects: She’s like your old friend who’s doing much better than you in life, but you still talk sometimes, and you still like each other. She loves video games and cooking. She dunks on her (also rich and beautiful) husband. She comes across as One of Us. And Teigen has gotten powerful from that feeling of closeness—in fact, she’s the only person who’s not a White House official that Joe Biden follows on the @POTUS handle.
The pandemic has intensified our intense reactions to all of this, to be sure. Yet regardless of what’s happening in the world, this much is true: Chrissy Teigen can sail along on goodwill for years, and she has. Then, once in awhile, she will say something that makes everyone realize her unfair advantages as a multimillionaire celeb. We’ll collectively reconsider whether we want to keep adding our love for her to the pile of things that’s good in Teigen’s life. And so the cycle will repeat, over and over, so long as we live in a culture that provides cover for wealth inequality so drastic that some people can laugh about accidental $13,000 wine tabs, while others can’t eat at all. See you back here next time.
Correction, Feb. 4, 2021: This post originally misspelled Teladoc.