Let me paint you a picture. Fingers cramping from several hours of scrolling, the bottom right corner of the laptop screen reads 3.30 AM. You close your Tumblr tab only to open a new one and add ‘Wincest’ to your blacklist. Yes, that really is the incestuous ‘ship’ of brothers Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural. Your discovery of that peculiar side of the internet was the result of a distinctly painful ‘nightblogging’ endeavour on fanfiction.com. A few scrolls down your ‘dash’ and you find a pleasing Sherlock gif that supports your favourite ‘headcanon’. You press reblog and type out your tags (#feels, #nsfw, #superwholock, #johnlock) while your eyes tear up from excitement or exhaustion, it’s hard to tell. So you close your laptop, turn off the light and stare at the roof while fantasising about the upcoming convention which is followed by a particular vivid nightmare of grey body paint, brightly coloured horns and zodiac t-shirts.
If this sounds familiar then you must accept the inevitable, you are or have once been a fangirl.
For those who find themselves particularly confused, never having ventured into the world of fandoms, I will define a few key terms. ‘Fangirls’ are usually, however not limited to, teenage females who are obsessed with a character, actor, band member, TV series or anime and, more likely than not, have overstepped the line between healthy interest and full-fledged infatuation.
Belonging to ‘fandoms’, or communities that share their obsessions, they partake in fanfiction and fanart of both the SFW and NSFW variety. An example of this is the self-proclaimed ultimate fandom called ‘Superwholock’, a combination of BBC’s Sherlock, Doctor Who, and CW’s Supernatural whose title is currently being challenged by a popular trio of newer series: Gravity Falls, Over the Garden Wall and Steven Universe.
These fangirls are likely to ‘ship’ (derived from the word relationSHIP) a pairing in the fandom of their choice and promote this couple on internet forums. Ships can range from Johnlock (the pairing of Sherlock and John Watson, not the political theorist) to the more frightening cartoon pony pairings of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Fans of any fandom are also able to ‘cosplay’, that is to dress up as a particular character, at conventions where they share their passion with other fans.
Meanwhile, ‘headcanon’ is a fan’s own personal belief about what is true in the universe of television series or movie. If this belief is confirmed by the creators, it is said to become ‘canon’. Being a fangirl has its pros and cons. The community aspect of fandoms and the satisfaction of your ships or headcanons being realised can make up for the frustration and pain of unrequited love. Not your own unrequited love I mean, but that of your favourite characters.
However, being a fangirl is like walking a tightrope between healthy enthusiasm and stay-up-all-night-reading-slashfics type obsession. If you discover yourself hashtagging #justcommunistthings on your politics essay, you should probably spend less time on the internet. Additionally, finding yourself at an All Time Low concert crying over Alex Gaskarth’s hair is a strong indicator that your love towards your favourite band has turned into an unhealthy and reputation-destroying infatuation. No, I wasn’t fifteen. Yes, that happened two months ago. We’ll leave it at that.
Fangirl culture has been criticised throughout the internet for being sickeningly obsessive and shallow, and fangirls everywhere have been labelled stalkers and worse. However, fangirls are revolutionising internet and pop culture by exercising their creativity and immense talent by creating fanart and writing fanfiction that rivals the work of professionals.
Networks such as Nickelodeon have caved in to pressure from fans to incorporate more diverse pairings, such as Korra and Asami (Korrasami: once a headcanon, now it is canon) in popular children’s show Avatar: Legend of Korra. The ensuing queer visibility in a popular TV show is an undoubtedly positive thing.
Additionally, fan communities allow for space for self-expression and creativity online that cater for younger female demographics. An example of this is social network Tumblr, one of the primary forums that fangirls use for blogging and sharing fandom-related content, and that challenges male-dominated spaces such as Reddit and 4chan.
I will leave you with a few pieces of advice when exploring the world of fangirls and fandoms taken from many years of well-versed experience. Stay away from the bronies. Homestuck fans may look scary but all they want from you is for you to read a 7000+ page webcomic. Don’t watch an entire season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix before your Biology exam. Do retake ‘Hogwarts Sorting Hat’ quizzes until you are assigned to your favourite house. Finally and most importantly, do ship your favourite couples but also respect the personal boundaries of the actors involved, for the love of god, please.