Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Fangirl Life Is A Fun, Engaging Look at What Makes a True “Fanwoman”

I often avoid using the word “fangirl” to describe myself or my behavior because I’ve always equated it with being juvenile. The women in my life who have displayed admirable qualities of being a fangirl are exceptions, but most of the women I’ve met who self-identify as fangirls have embodied the stereotypes and negative attributes — they’re shrill, blinded by their love for a character or ship that they’re unable to see reason, and care more about flailing than quality. But after reading Kathleen Smith’s book The Fangirl Life, I realized something crucial: I didn’t have to identify as a fangirl; I am a fanwoman.

The creator of, Kathleen is a fanwoman who is also a licensed therapist which provides her book with a unique voice and style that has not been, nor will likely ever be, published yet. Because while The Fangirl Life is about OTPs, feels, and television characters, it’s also a really compelling look into why we behave the way that we do whenever our favorite pairings kiss on-screen. And that’s what a book about being a fangirl really needed — a look not just into the “what” but the “why” behind our behavior. She manages to examine the problematic behaviors of fangirling without being degrading or patronizing to those who might fall into the category. Kathleen recognizes that we are all passionate about something: whether television or comic books or sports. But she also recognizes that not everything is good for us, either. Some behaviors are healthy, and some are unhealthy. And in identifying the unhealthy behaviors and — more importantly — why we are behaving that way, we’re able to rectify our behavior and grow into fanwomen who love just as passionately but more maturely.

What is great about The Fangirl Life is that Kathleen Smith doesn’t just stop there by telling readers that certain behaviors are unhealthy: she actually provides examples of unhealthy behaviors and healthy behaviors to counteract them. For example, in her chapter titled “All the Feels,” Kathleen provides case studies of made-up fangirls whose obsessions interfere with their everyday lives and relationships, as well as questions as to how they can be passionate without obsessive. I love that Kathleen incorporates her knowledge of psychology throughout The Fangirl Life in a way that doesn’t feel forced or like she’s attempting to bolster the book’s credibility by inserting professional language. In fact, it feels rather natural that a book about what it means to be a fangirl and how to become a fanwoman would tie-in so seamlessly with psychology. Our mind dictates our behavior, and while Kathleen spends time lauding fangirls for their accomplishments and always advocates for being passionate about the things you love, she also is quick to point out that passion can turn into unhealthy obsession that takes over our lives one all-night Tumblr binge at a time.

And while this book feels universal, it also feels deeply personal. As someone who has been involved in fandom for over a decade, I see a lot of myself — and a lot of my friends — in this book. I see a lot of fandom’s flaws, and I see a lot of places where we can become more successful. I see a lot of the characters I’ve admired on television (y’all, Kathleen devotes an entire chapter to BAMFs and women with incredible hair) represented in this book, but I also see a lot of Kathleen Smith in this book. Why? Because she inserts her own personal stories. Whether it’s discussing her Emma Pillsbury-inspired wardrobe or her most intimate, grief-filled moments, Kathleen’s transparency is one of the reasons why she’s so engaging, to me, as the author of this book. I understood more about her and more about myself through her anecdotes and examples.

One of my favorite things though about The Fangirl Life is the practical life advice that Kathleen provides us with. “Courageous women,” she writes, “make decisions that do not cave t what is convenient or petty.” Kathleen is truly a motivator and champion for women, with exceptional female role models and practical advice to help us all, no matter our age, navigate female friendships, romantic relationships, and self-image. Later on I the book, when discussing the existence of haters and how to combat them, but also accept constructive criticism, Kathleen writes: “People’s hearts and minds are changed when they hear or experience a narrative that challenges their worldview. That process starts with listening to other people’s stories and allowing your own beliefs to be challenged and edited. If we don’t examine our own biases, then how do we even know we’re not the villains in our own story or someone else’s?” While a lot of this book is fun and feel-good, so much of it is also just as poignant and convicting. Kathleen Smith is intelligent, passionate, and provides sound advice throughout her book.

So yes, while a lot of The Fangirl Life is fun (just admire the adorable doodles created by artist Camilla Fiocci), it also explores what it looks like to become someone who is more than just a fan — someone with all of the admirable qualities and the self-awareness that comes with growth. Kathleen challenges us all to evolve from fangirls into fanwomen, and her book provides the perfect foundation for how to do just that.
You can purchase your own copy of The Fangirl Life on Amazon. And be sure to follow Kathleen Smith on Twitter, too!


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