The Fangirl Life Writer Kathleen Smith Explains How to Deal With Your Famous (or Fictional) Crush
I've been a fangirl my entire life.
When I was five, I would watch the first half of The Lion King over and over because I had a massive crush on Jonathan Taylor Thomas (once Simba grew up and JTT was out of the picture, I completely lost interest).
(The Lion King via Buena Vista Pictures)
In high school, I wrote way too much Lost and Lord of the Rings crossover fanfic, and got my first failing grade (in AP Calculus) because I was out late at Angels & Airwaves concerts three nights in a row during finals.
I even have a backup drive with more than a thousand animated gifs of Roger Daltrey from The Who, which I carefully crafted in Photoshop over the span of a few years.
So when I was introduced to a book called The Fangirl Life by Kathleen Smith, I knew I had to read it immediately. And I did, somehow blazing through it within just a couple of hours (you can get it on Amazon HERE).
The Fangirl Life is the fangirl's survival guide I wish I'd had in high school. Smith is not just a longtime fangirl, but also a licensed therapist and mental health journalist. Not only has she been through the rollercoaster of emotions called fangirling, but she's also uniquely qualified to help us all deal with those feels.
I had the chance to ask Kathleen Smith a few questions about making it through the life of a fangirl, particularly regarding the pain of "falling in love" with famous people (and the characters they portray).
(Photo credit: Sergey O Matveev via Shutterstock)
So, is your love for Harry Styles (or his fictional character in the upcoming movie Dunkirk) normal?
Smith says you shouldn't think of your fandom in terms of what's "normal."
"I do think that some of us are programmed for a more intense kind of passion when it comes to our interests," she explains. "Fangirls aren't passive participants. They don't watch a show or read a book they love and go, 'Oh, that was nice.' They are active creators when it comes to what they love."
Fangirls often write fanfiction and draw fan art and join communities where the main topic of conversation is one shared obsession. Even when they don't, their fandoms are almost always swimming around in their heads.
Of course, this passion and dedication isn't exclusive to fangirls.
"I think everyone has that level of enthusiasm inside them waiting to be unleashed," she says. "It's just that society has a track record of deeming whatever young women are enthusiastic about as 'less than' or 'uncool.'"
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So how can we all talk to our parents and friends about our fangirling in a way that might make sense to them? Smith goes through the topic in depth in The Fangirl Life, but tells me it's about conveying how your fandom really makes you feel.
"One thing you can try is making a list of all the reasons why your fave inspires you, and communicate this to people," she says.
Another thing to be very aware of is that not everyone else lives most of their lives on the internet and knows the language of fangirling.
" 'I love him so much I want to die,' sounds alarming to someone who doesn't speak fangirl," Smith says. "Saying something like, 'He inspires me and I love his story,' makes your obsession easier for an outsider to understand. So don't be afraid to translate!"
That enthusiasm needs an outlet, and sharing it with people who just don't get it can be extremely frustrating.
"I think finding a group of friends who are game for all your feels is key," she says.
Kathleen has her own close group of friends who she calls "the fangirl committee." They're all on a group text where they can share all of their fangirl rants and ravings in a safe, understanding place, "so we're not constantly crying on social media," she explains.
"We share our frustrations with fandom and our love for our faves, but we also cheer each other on when it comes to our goals in life. They're my safety net."
Your Celeb Crush
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Fangirls are often united by their love for a famous person. But it's important to remember that David Tennant can't really take you on an adventure through time and space, and Chris Hemsworth won't actually whisk you away to Asgard.
"Often our perceptions of celebrities we love blind us to the reality that they're also humans with flaws, struggles, and frustrations," Smith says.
Actors aren't their characters, plain and simple. It's important that your life revolves around you, and not just a celebrity.
"Remind yourself that they have an army of people who make them look amazing and a team of writers gifting them with a brilliant character," she says. "It's easy to forget they're not a flawless creature, so I think meditating on their humanness can help scale back your worship to a more manageable admiration."
This can be especially tough when that celeb is on social media. You can essentially follow their every move, and with tweets and Insta comments, it can feel like you're having a conversation, even if they never reply.
"I think that closeness and our ability to share our feelings with our faves can sometimes tease us into thinking that this relationship is a two-way street. But it isn't." Smith says. "I encourage people to focus on what two-way relationships they can foster in life."
No matter how much you engage with your fave on social media, you can't guarantee that they'll ever know you exist. It can be much healthier to use social media as a means to discover your fangirl community.
"I've found some of my best friends because we cried about the same actress," she says. "Those relationships are worth a thousand times more than a reply to a tweet from a celebrity or a stage door signing. They're the ones that could last a lifetime."
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Of course, reeling in these feelings isn't something we can do overnight.
"Part of learning to be an adult is realizing that any kind of balance in life isn't as simple as flipping a switch or 'five easy steps,'" Smith says. "But to start, you can think about how your 'to-do' list should reflect your values."
If fangirling lives at the top of your list, then it doesn't make sense to push it out of your life. We fangirl because it brings us joy. Of course, it can't be the only thing on your list.
"Make space for other values in your daily routine, whether it's being healthy, spending time with friends and working on school and career goals," she says.
Smith says that people should generally take time in their lives to stop and examine what they value most and whether those aspects of life are devoted enough time.
Fangirling has its positives and negatives, and it's up to the individual to prioritize fangirling within the scheme of their life.
"If you can learn to start focusing on self-reflection when you're young, you're strengthening that muscle for the rest of your life," she says. "There are so many ways that those passions can provide fuel for other areas of your life, and I think focusing on how it can work for you rather than simply how it's distracting you is so much more fun and productive."
Some fangirls might put restrictions on themselves when the time dedicated to their fangirl activities starts to become a problem, but Smith says that this doesn't work for everyone.
"Instead, I'd recommend trying to be intentional about scheduling non-fangirl activities," she says. "If I know I'm spending too much time on Twitter, then I want to set aside time during the day where I don't have access to my phone. Maybe I'm swimming for half an hour, or I'm taking a walk around the neighborhood with a friend and leave my phone at home. To me, change happens when I add positive, healthy activities into my routine. Guilting myself about the unhealthy stuff rarely results in change."
The (Fictional) Love of Your Life
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"Falling in love" with fictional characters is a different beast altogether. How do you deal when someone you adore so much isn't even real?
"I think what helps me cope with that angst is knowing that another fictional character will always come along and hold me captive," Smith says. "There are characters that don't even exist yet that are going to capture your heart."
No, your fictional love won't ever really be a part of your life, but they can make it richer.
"While they can't be your friend or your mentor or your love, they can introduce you to friends who love the same character," she says. "They can inspire you to take risks and be brave and fill your life with people who can love you back."
Even when the book, show or movie is done, fangirls keep their favorite characters' stories going on in their minds. Smith says that there's nothing wrong with occasionally losing yourself in your own headcanon.
"Oh man, I love flights of fancy," she says. "I have hundreds of fictional characters going about their day in my brain. Carrying your imagination with you past childhood is a beautiful gift. As long as you're not hiding behind those characters, then just have fun."
Fictional characters can act as vessels for our dreams and desires. Sometimes, they can help us figure out what we actually want and who we really want to be.
"Maybe they say the words you want to say in your mind or in your fanfic, but that doesn't mean you can't make the same bold moves in life," she says.
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For a lot of fangirls, keeping those stories going means writing fanfiction, taking their favorite characters beyond that canon of the screen or the page and making those stories their own.
"For fangirls, stories never stop," Smith explains. "They want to know what happens offscreen, or what happens when you put characters into new scenarios. But above all, fanfiction is about loving the characters."
She also says writing fanfiction has the added benefits of helping to hone writing skills, and allowing fans to meet like-minded, creative friends with similar passions.
"I wouldn't say there are any downsides if you're being kind and mature to others," she says. "There are always going to be people who write better than you do, so try not to turn it into a competition. Just have fun!"
And beyond writing fanfiction, fangirling is a skill in itself.
"I think often we forget what skills and knowledge we pick up when we're obsessing," she says. "Take the time to focus on the secondary stuff. Maybe you learned to make gifs of your fave, or perhaps you picked up some technical skills when you started a podcast. Perhaps you have expert knowledge about targeting people via social media. If your favorite actor starred in a movie, maybe you read the book and learned something."
We can pick up a lot of extremely useful skills in the process of fangirling without even realizing it. Once you identify those skills, don't be afraid to talk about them!
"We can take ownership of these skills and learn to advocate for ourselves by listing them on resumes or mentioning them in job interview," she says. "You don't have to mention that you learned the skill while crying about your fave to benefit from it!"
If you're already living a fangirl life, you must click HERE for more of our thoughts on The Fangirl Life.