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Fangirling for Fangirls MAG
I woke up to my phone buzzing with tweets. One Direction had appeared in Chicago, and no one had any idea why. All it took to get a glimpse of my favorite band was a quick tumblr search for which hotels my boys frequented, 10 frantic phone calls to my mom at work, a sweaty three-mile bike ride to the train station, and an Uber to a hotel I’ll never be able to afford. When we got there, the bell man opened our car door and offered to take our bags, but when he saw our embarrassing tee shirts and my pink, fluorescent hair, he instantly knew where we were headed.
At first, we saw the other 30 girls as competition, heard urban myths like, “They don’t come out if there’s so many people. Someone is going to have to leave.” But four hours in, I knew each girl’s favorite band member, song, album, and learned if they were on the speech, volleyball, or chess team. We were even pooling our money to buy a pizza. My parents eventually lost their patience and demanded I come home. So, with heavy hearts, my new friends and I exchanged snap chats and were on our way home without an autograph, but with plenty of stories and a refreshing sense of community.
According to Miriam-Webster, a fangirl is “a girl or woman who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something.” In other words, that chick who sat on a sidewalk outside a five-star hotel for eight hours. In other words, me. Today, we will examine the negative connotations the word fangirl has, explore the science behind the action of “fangirling,” and by realizing how important this passion is, we can remember the value of tolerance in our own lives.
The bellman wasn’t the only one to recognize odd details about fangirls’ appearance. In 1964, Paul Johnson wrote, “What a bottomless chasm of vacuity they reveal! The huge faces, bloated with cheap confectionery and smeared with chain-store makeup, the open, sagging mouths and glazed eyes, the broken stiletto heels: this is a generation enslaved by a commercial machine.” Most people wouldn’t guess that he is talking about the fans of one of the most classic bands in history, The Beatles. Honestly, it sounds like something my Beatles-obsessed grandpa would say after I show him videos from a One Direction concert. The point is that people have looked down on fangirls for time immemorial, and it has little to do with the talent of who they’re obsessing over.
Now, we make these assumptions carelessly. Rather than saying someone likes Justin Beiber or One Direction, we say that someone has caught “Beiber Fever” or the “One Direction Infection.” We relate girls’ interests to a sickness.
If this was all in good fun, I would laugh along. But in reality, these comments simply delegitimize teenage girls’ real effects on the music industry. In fact, the music industry couldn’t exist without us. According to Time Inc. UK, teenage girls spend 20% more on concert tickets and band merchandise than their male counterparts.
Despite this, the bands that fangirls idolize are often looked down upon and not seen as legitimate musicians. “Seventy-five percent of our lives is proving we’re a real band,” Ashton Irwin from Five Seconds of Summer, a band with a large female following, told Rolling Stone. They aren’t having to prove themselves because of anything they do or don’t do, but because teenage girls like them. And we all know how esteemed our opinions are by society.
Well, I’m here to tell you that teenage girls are insanely awesome. And the act of fangirling is so undeniably human that we don’t deserve to get a bad rap for it. Fangirls aren’t crazy; we’re just excited, and there’s brain science to prove it.
Actively listening to a beloved song stokes the brain’s pleasure center and feels arousing. “It’s like a temporary roller coaster of emotions, with no severe consequences,” says Valorie Salimpoor, a music researcher at McGill University. This “roller coaster of emotions” becomes something the fangirl will continuously try to recreate, maybe by playing the song on repeat or buying tickets to a concert. Now, it isn’t only the music that makes fans obsessively follow a band. Mirror neurons are parts of the brain that activate when someone watches her favorite celebrity succeed. If a fangirl is personally invested in the action her idol is performing, she will feel as though she is the one performing it. For example, when Taylor Swift wins a Teen Choice award, someone who voted for her could receive the gratification of winning, even though in reality she had very little to do with it.
The Balance Theory, based on the consistency theory, proposed by Fritz Heider in 1975, also plays into this. It proposes that if you like someone and she likes something, then you probably like it too. For fangirls, the Balance Theory can encompass anything about the object of their affection. For example, if Nicki Minaj emphasizes staying in school and focusing on grades, fangirls are likely to agree that these are good ideas because they trust Minaj. This explains how fangirls become so invested in a music idol themselves, and not just the music they make.
Delegitimizing the things that are important to young women is a terrible thing to do to them. Fangirling helps girls build a sense of self and create communities of people they can relate to.
I have a lot of experience building an identity through a band. When I was younger, I used to write stories in which Harry Styles almost single handedly ran The New York Times and had strong friends and liked boys and called his grandma once a week to update her on his day. Of course, he didn’t do any of those things, but middle school me wanted him to. Simultaneously, middle school me was running her school newspaper, hoping for new friends, and figuring out her own sexuality. Projecting all of these emotions onto a celebrity made them easier to navigate. That way, I wasn’t putting myself in situations I didn’t have the emotional capacity to handle at 13.
Fangirling isn’t just about finding yourself, it’s also about finding a community. Online communities are instrumental in providing girls with new ideas about the world, which they otherwise only get to see through the tiny window of their hometown.
Girls across the globe are connecting.
Sure, the conversations might start out discussing Shawn Mendes’ perfect hair, but they often escalate. Girls of all racial and political identities can create a discourse about their own experiences, which would be impossible if Shawn Mendes’ locks had never opened up the conversation. These connections lead to intellectual growth and strong bonds.
That day outside the Langham, I left without giving Niall Horan the letter I wrote him. Instead, I had gained independence through figuring out public transportation, navigating city streets, and spending time away from my parents. I made friends who I still keep in touch with to this day.
The fangirl trope is sexist and unfair. The benefits fangirls experience by connecting with each other and learning about themselves outweigh any negatives. So the next time you spot a girl in full One Direction regalia, don’t belittle her. She may be me, so come say hi.