For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived in my head.
Given my parents’ strong penchant for books, music and films, it was inevitable that their daughter would be enamoured by the same, and all the good things that came with them.
While I spent my childhood blissfully following in my parents’ footsteps, at twelve, a crucial difference between myself and others around me became evident. I somehow frequently managed to fall deeply in love with fictional people and even got into trouble at school once for “reading too much” -like there’s such a thing.
My peers watched, read and listened to the same things that I did, but came away relatively unaffected. It was then that I discovered that I had a gift. It was called “the feels.” And I was a “fangirl.”
A decade later, I am now an adult fangirl and unapologetic about having lost count of the things I’ve fallen in love with over the years.
The fangirl persona is so deeply entrenched in who I am that if someone took her away from me, I wouldn’t recognize myself. To me, very few things top the giddy high I get while spiralling into the madness of a new fandom.
When bogged down by the anxieties and sometimes Kafkaesque realities of life, the fandoms I love so dearly are my North Star.
The books, films, music and fictional people I love are beyond special to me because they offered a sense of security and belonging to a little girl with her head up in the clouds. The worlds of these fandoms make up some of the very core threads of who I am today, and I couldn’t be more proud of that.
However, where there’s light, the pesky shadows are bound to show up.
The “crazy” fangirl trope:
I am acutely aware that a fangirl/fanperson’s reputation precedes them. Even I, a true-blue fangirl, have sporadically caught the internalized misogynist in me scoffing at my fellow, often younger fangirls. Mainstream descriptions often pigeonhole us into this image of an unstable, adolescent, “weird girl” capable of conversing only in earsplitting shrieks. Trust me, I’ve been there; I once had a serious case of the Bieber Fever and the boy set my heart aflutter plenty. But there’s more to it than that.
As I grew older, it felt like I was being told that the worst thing I could do was be enthusiastic about the things I loved.
And choose to do it in public? Social suicide. Clearly, the quality of the work was second-rate, because a teenage girl admired it, thereby making the artists worthy of ridicule. When I was finally a “woman,” I had to deal with a new plot twist. Age was no factor; the legions of women like me were obviously nothing more than vessels of infantile admiration.
It isn’t always enough to say that you’re a fan when you’re a woman, you’ve got to prove it.
What could mere “girls” know about the appreciation of real art? How could they possibly understand the gravity of what these works held?
Fandom feelings? Still valid.
The rebuke thrown against fangirls seems more than slightly misplaced to me. We do tend to spend quite a bit of money, time, and effort on the things we love, and it may appear frivolous to some. What I don’t understand is the higher standard that traditionally masculine pursuits that require the same investments of money, time, and effort are held to.
Young boys can scream their lungs out for sports teams, grown men can cry when confronted with a sports loss, the audience can whoop and howl all they want, and not many people would bat an eye. Reverse the milieu with a concert or major movie event, and suddenly the very same emotions are no longer valid.
Crying over a certain genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist or a beloved member of a boyband leaving the group is reduced to “hysterics” (which in itself is a word discounting the emotions of those who identify as female, their freedom of expression, and the legitimacy of their opinions). There’s nothing wrong with being moved or expressing your emotions, and there definitely shouldn’t be different standards of acceptability for those who don’t identify as men and the things they like.
Fan ≠ Stalker.
People complain of fandom being rooted in escapism, distortion of reality and generally abhorrent creepiness. I can actually get behind some of that; not dealing with your real-life concerns and neglecting your relationships in favor of obsessing over things you love isn’t the healthiest behavior. Even worse is when people engage in anti-social behaviours that put celebrities they love at physical and psychological harm, totally unacceptable under any circumstances.
And that is where the fundamental difference between fans and stalkers becomes evident. Fans take the things and people that give them joy, make it bigger, and celebrate it.
In an ocean of fans, one is bound to find the occasional human who goes overboard. That doesn’t warrant all fans being painted with the same colour of no-respect-for-privacy and super-stalker. As for escapism, if the works we love soothe us, entertain us, and add to our personal growth, what’s so wrong with an occasional dose?
Changing the world, one fandom at a time.
One of my favourite things in the whole world is people putting fangirls in a specific type of box, and then being taken aback at our diversity and how creative, fearless, and passionate we can be. The fandoms we’re a part of don’t merely lead us out of the darkness and into the light; our values lie strengthened by them.
The power that fans draw from what they love has been transformed from “hysterical” screaming to real, tangible actions for a better, more inclusive world. Traditionally marginalised fans initially helped move past white, cisheteronormative perspectives and create strong networks that combat the general consensus. Active agents in several socio political movements, these fans still continue to increase awareness about their perspectives, with a growing army of those similar to them and allies.
From tackling issues like the representation of Black people in the media (Black Girls Create), those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum (Rainbow Direction) and developing a platform for fans typically excluded from popular discourse (Black TARDIS), to increasing awareness on human rights, fair trade, and fair wages (Harry Potter Alliance), to participating in movements for freedom, liberation, and justice like Black Lives Matter (One In An Army), and raising funds for charities (1DFansGive, WhedonCon), fandoms are an effective tool to challenge systemic hegemonies and hierarchies in today’s world.
So no, we’re not solely made up of screaming young girls (who are amazing and deserve so much more credit, by the way). We come together from every walk of life, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and profession, to mobilize and advocate for things that matter. So to me, the word “fangirl” is one of incredible power.
Art is never “just” a movie, a song, a book, a painting, or a game. It speaks to us, teaches us to love, think, and what it means to be human.
And fandom goes beyond preordering the latest albums, catching the first shows, or buying merch till one possibly goes broke. Yes, the overwhelming love can feel a little extreme at times, and it’s always not a rosy picture of peace either.
As with everything else, the uglier sides of fandom exist, and the occasional infighting and attacks need to be addressed and reined in. But ultimately, being in a fandom is a celebration of what we love and a way of fighting the darkness in the world.
So go on and call me a fangirl, you’ll find me waving my flag with pride in my eyes and joy in my heart. We’re not going anywhere. Not now, not ever. More power to us.