Close your eyes, and imagine a fangirl. Who do you see? Perhaps it’s a fourteen-year-old melting into a puddle at a One Direction concert. Or maybe it’s a college student avoiding her next research paper while she edits the next chapter of her Teen Wolf fan fiction. But did you see the brilliant CEO in the corner office? A novelist celebrating the sale of her latest book? Probably not. It’s no secret that the media has a very narrow definition of who is and who isn’t a fangirl. Fangirling is portrayed as an intense but temporary adolescent rite of passage, like a tiny, tear-filled supernova. Anything longer is considered dysfunctional, or a waste of time.
Every fangirl, young or old, can tell you she’s had at least one person in her life insinuate that her obsession is a time-suck. That there are more useful ways to engage her brain and her talents. While it’s socially acceptable for a grown adult male to dedicate his life to following a sports team, we tell fangirls to hang up their wands or their lightsabers when “real life” rolls around. We tell a teenager she can cry about The 100, but that her mother somehow cannot. As if the fangirl obsession were a parasite hitching a ride throughout the teenage years, only to hop onto a new host when she reaches adulthood.
But fangirling isn’t a phase of life. It’s a dedication to fostering the kind of imagination that most adults don’t have. The imagination people leave behind when they land their first job or settle into life’s increasing demands. But we forget that when the world is full of people who nurture their imaginations, it’s inevitably a better place. Creating that world means making space for fangirls who conquer but still cry about two fictional people in love. So let’s take a look at a few reasons why fangirling is anything but the waste of time people say it is.
Fangirls are more empathetic towards others.
Fangirls tend to be readers, whether they’re young adult novel fiends, sci-fi geeks, or fan fiction enthusiasts. Bookworms get stereotyped as awkward introverts who’d rather hang out with Netflix than humans, but that’s far from the truth. Psychology researchers have found that people who read fiction regularly are less lonely, grow larger social networks, and have greater interpersonal sensitivity. BOOM.
Because they insert themselves into the brains of their favorite characters, fangirls are more empathetic towards people who are hurting or people who have diverse life experiences. And every time she transports herself into a different character, the fangirl is exercising the muscles that help her get along well with others. She’s less likely to suffer from the short-sightedness that leads to narcissism or discrimination. In short, she’s more equipped for the real world.
Fictional characters talk to fangirls.
Like any humans, fangirls sometimes struggle with self-doubt. That negative voice in your head loves to tell you that you’re not beautiful enough, not smart enough, or tough enough. Fortunately for the fangirl, she also carries with her the encouraging voices of fictional characters who have left an imprint on her life. Her favorite Hogwarts instructor, or vampire slayer, or TV detective are always there with the right words to give her the courage she can’t quite summon. The fangirl doesn’t want to live a life where there aren’t five thousand fictional people along for the ride. They entertain her when she’s bored, and they give the best pep talks when she needs that extra nudge towards making a bold move in her life.
Fangirls make friends for the long haul.
If a fangirl tells you she met her best friend crying about an actress’s hair on the Internet, you might feel tempted to dismiss this relationship as superficial. But fangirls make the strongest and longest-lasting friendships. This is because it’s easy for them to be vulnerable about what excites them and what they imagine when their heads hit the pillow at night. There’s no need for those initial inhibitions when someone has seen you freak out over the latest movie spoiler or do cartwheels down the street when you’ve scored concert tickets. You don’t have to dance around your anxieties or your biggest dreams, because fangirl friendships allow you to be your authentic self.
Fangirl skills equal resume material.
Fangirls have traveled through the darkest caves and the most remote islands of the Internet. They can organize and disseminate information better than anyone. So it makes sense that they also make exceptionable employees. I’ve been saying this for years on social media as I avoid my work. Fangirls understand how social media works, they have great SEO for their blogs, and they can code well enough to design the perfect Tumblr page. “How did you find that email address?” a fangirl’s boss will ask in wonder. “I’m from the Internet,” she’ll reply, whipping her cape around to save everyone’s butts yet again.
Fangirls believe in the power of story.
The fangirl knows in her bones that story is a powerful stimulant. Story has motivated humans for millennia, and it doesn’t matter if it’s coming from the walls of a cave or a TV marathon. Story helps the fangirl see her own life as a narrative, a skill that will help her survive the days that feel like an emotional episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The beautiful thing about real life is that fangirls can start a new chapter or a new season whenever they like. The more you feel like the author of your own story, the great capacity you create to learn from your mistakes, cast new characters, and take a big, brave leap into a new job or relationship.
Because I wrote a book about the fangirl life, a lot of people have asked me whether I think some types of fangirl behavior are a “waste of time.” When I hear those three words, I always shake my head. Because I’m a fangirl, and when I think of moments where I was “wasting” the life I’ve been given, I don’t think of the hours I’ve spent crying about a fictional character or marathoning a TV show. My wasted moments are the weeks I was too hard on myself. The days I worried too much about what other people thought. The times I said “no” to something that could make me braver or stronger.
Fangirling is only a problem when I used it to hide from the bigger story for my life. But I’m not hiding from real life, and the majority of fangirls don’t either. We stand on top of the shoulders of the people who inspire us, real and fictional. We take the time to hear someone’s story when it’s a different one than our own. I don’t know about you, but I think the world needs more of this kind of passion. So don’t tell us we’re wasting our time, when our lives will be all the better for the stories that we build.