Log onto Instagram – you’ll see them. Scroll through Twitter – there will be loads of them. Get a Tumblr – my dear, prepare yourself because you’ve entered their world. What world, you ask? The world of fandoms (Imagine a convention where all the fandoms of every genre come together. They could call it FandomCon! Or ConDom! Uh, I mean … wait, what?). You see, fangirls (members of fandom communities) get a lot of flak. We are almost always stereotyped as love-struck, obsessive teenage girls who camp outside venues for twelve years just to see/meet our idols (but we’re actually a lot more diverse than that). The act of being a fangirl — or fangirling — is (mis)perceived as a temporary condition, a “You’ll grow out of it eventually” kind of situation. Fangirling is also often deemed immature, distracting, and a waste of time and effort by outsiders (*cough* parents *cough*).
I want to challenge this ideology. Is it a waste of time and effort? I say no, it is not (and I think the celebrities whose fame spawns from it would agree, but that’s besides the point). In fact, I think fangirling can teach us a lot about relationships and even (dare I say it) love. *GASP* What?! That’s crazy talk! Before you scoff, hear me out.
Fangirls 411: Who We Are and What We Do (Not WHO we do…that’s a groupie)
Who We Are:
Although it is the most common label of identification, “fangirls” isn’t actually representative of the diverse population we are; because of the familiarity of the name, however, this term is most often used. FanPEOPLE come in all shapes, sizes, ages, cultures, genders (and other social constructs), sexual orientations, hairstyles, political affiliations, music genres, dietary preferences, and spirit animals. So, to answer the first question: no, we are not all love-struck, obsessive teenage girls with an average of 23 posters tacked onto our walls. I don’t have any up, so take that! Yeah.
What We Do:
Fangirls — as diverse and unique as we may be — come together based on a common interest: appreciation for a certain person, group, show, genre, etc. This is where being a fan and being a fangirl diverge: fangirls are as (if not more) deeply interested in the person when they are off stage/set/field than when they are on it. Fangirling requires lots of energy (the feels are real, man) and is not for the faint of heart.
Is Fangirl Love Real Love?
That’s the question on everyone’s mind (or maybe just my mind). Haters answer with a “No” as hard and sharp as cheddar cheese. My fellow fangirls, however, know otherwise. Despite the rebuke it often receives, fangirling can teach us a lot of useful lessons about relationships—with ourselves, with other fangirls, and with others outside of the fandom. At the risk of sounding “I asked for a piece of his hair so I could eat it” crazy, let me give you the straight truth (from my point of view): fangirling teaches people how to love (*cue Lil Wayne song*) by nurturing the values of loyalty, commitment, disappointment, joy, and acceptance.
Love Your Friends, Love Yourself.
It may sound backwards, but my experience as a fangirl has taught me just that. Yes, celebrities often try to spread encouraging messages to their fans about mind and body acceptance, but I’m not talking about them. It is the other hundred (thousand, million) other fangirls that you meet and foster relationships with who teach you how to love yourself. Fangirls respect each other; they seek each other out when there is no one else to talk to because… (and this is the biggest kept secret in the fandom world) … you soon realize that you have so much more in common with these other fangirls than an appreciation for a particular celebrity. Fangirls become your friends—the close-knit group of pals you see on TV and in movies—and these friends become your family.
Fangirls connect with each other through social media across the globe, but don’t think for a second that those bonds you make over deep conversations at 2 a.m., late-night music jams, sobfests, and vent sessions don’t form. They do, and—believe it or not—they’re often stronger than the relationships fangirls have outside of the fandom (what others refer to as “real life”). Fangirls don’t compete, they compliment. They appreciate other fangirls for the beautiful, insightful, worthy, hilarious, creative, compassionate people that they are. They recognize each other’s value. Yes, the fandom is what brings fangirls together, but it is the fangirls themselves that keep the fandom (and each other) alive and thriving, enjoying each other’s company and getting through life together. Fangirls feed on laughter, tears of happiness and heartache, those darn feels, and the little moments of joy and light that their common interest brings. Fangirls are daisies. Yellow sun disks of sincerity encompassed in white rays of life, laughter, and toothy smiles. Encouraging and supportive. Loyal and positive. Beautiful alone and beautiful together.
Preparing the Heart to Know When.
The act of fangirling requires patience and dedication, two virtues required in any loving relationship. Fangirls cherish the people they fangirl over not just for the art they make, but also for the imperfect people they are. Fangirling requires full acceptance of both ocean breezes and summer storms. Fangirls learn that we are not made to love and be loved in parts; we are made to love and be loved wholly and completely. It is not always rainbows and butterflies. We get angry, confused, disappointed too. There are times when you’re so frustrated that you want to pull your hair out. Or wallow in a tub of your own tears. Or eat an entire pizza. Or do all three. There are times when you’re so fascinated by/proud of the person you fangirl over that you need to sit down to calm your throbbing heart. Or kiss puppies’ wet noses. Or personally thank each blade of grass in your backyard for being beautiful and verdant and just *heart eye emoji.* In each of those times, there are other fangirls at your side, pulling, crying, eating, kissing, and thanking right along side you.
As a fangirl, the little moments you feed on to make it through your day come from the fandom—an inside joke, a loving message of encouragement, an album release announcement, a funny picture or video. Fangirling teaches us how valuable these tiny moments are and how deeply we should cherish them. More, it teaches us to seek out others (friends, partners, mates) with whom we can share these special moments. As mozzarella cheesy as it may sound, love is nestled among them.
The major critique of fangirling I hear most often is that the so-called love we feel is empty because it is unreturned. To those narrow-minded silly willies, I say this: (1) Love among fangirls IS returned and may be healthier than the love in their own lives, and (2) Unrequited love counts as love. It can be as fulfilling as two-sided love, but in a different way, as there are so many lessons to be learned from it! Learning how to love fully — without the expectation of anything in return — is learning the purest form of love. The feelings that fangirls experience toward their fandom source (think celebrity, band, fictional character) are real. I’ll say it again in case you couldn’t hear me in the back. The feelings fangirls experience are real. They exercise the heart, preparing it for another kind of love: mutual love.
To all the fangirls reading this, I want to remind you of something: all the feelings you currently have—the butterflies in the stomach, the giggles, the affectionate eye rolls, the pride that wells up in your throat, threatening to bubble over in the form of tears — you will feel them again. And again. And again. With the person you are meant to be with. Just as this band member, character, or celebrity does, another person in your life will make you feel this way. They’ll feel that very same way about you, too. And that’s when you’ll know it’s worth it. That’s when you’ll know the relationship is one of the big ones. So go on with your bad self and continue fangirling. Continue prepping, growing, and strengthening your heart. Don’t let anyone shame you for being a fangirl because you know what? Fangirls are daisies.