It’s tough to practice real self-care when the internet’s obsessed with #self-care. Let Mashable help with our new series Me, My Self-Care & I.
I didn’t get into BTS thinking I’d be anything other than a boring, casual fan. I only listened to one or two of the K-Pop supergroup’s songs on Spotify. I only liked posts from their official Twitter account. Really, I could only identify them by their stage names. (Taehyung, who?)
But I also happened to be going through a pretty tough time in my life, in between therapists, and I soon found myself leaning on BTS more and more to help me love myself enough during tough moments. After all, they said I could.
“Please use me. Use BTS to love yourself, because you (army) help me to love myself everyday.” [Kim Namjoon]
— Joon’s World (@kimparkdaily) November 8, 2018
The more invested I became, the more I was accepted into the fiercely loyal and devoted online community of BTS’s biggest supporters, known as ARMY. It felt amazing to be instantly supported by this community based on mutual love of artists whose message is about leaning on one another. Twitter threads full of positivity, group chats where mutuals send spam pictures of the members when someone is having a rough day, and community projects like when ARMYs in Seoul recently in honor of member RM’s birthday were all things that made me feel like my new fandom was a form of self-care.
But it wasn’t all feel-good entertainment. There was immense social pressure to be a part of the never-ending wave pool of content, commitment, and spending. Soon I found myself spending way more time on Twitter just to keep up with BTS’s latest activities, or even the latest viral jokes, memes, and discourse so as to not be left out of the loop. I was also spending money — on concert tickets, a lightstick, an exhibition, official merch, fan merch, DVDs, CDs (not to listen to, of course, but to collect the limited edition photo cards inside). I could have just looked at my bank account and the bags under my eyes and simply told myself to log off and stop spending.
But I didn’t, because I had officially become a stan, a kind of super fan, and this is what stan culture looks like, right? You see everyone around you in the community giving their all to a group you love so much, so why can’t you, too? I had nose-dived into the deep end of the ARMY pool, and I was struggling to come up for air. I was getting seriously burnt out.
Stan culture encourages giving up a lot of yourself for a celebrity. Half-serious jokes about using stanning as a form of self-care (i.e. BTS is my self-care, Taylor Swift is my self-care, etc.) are the norm now. Participating in these fan communities, though, can frequently become stressful, all-consuming, and detrimental to mental health when obsessive behavior becomes required to “prove” yourself as a true fan.
It’s hard to draw the line when the barrier between us and our celebrity idols is thinner than ever, especially through social media. Stans need to take measures to prevent losing too much of ourselves in the name of devotion. After all, it’s what our faves would want.
Celebrity Culture: The one-sided mirror of stan culture
The term “stan” comes from Eminem’s 2000 single of the same name, in which a fan named Stan takes his own life because Eminem didn’t write him back. Yikes.
While its origins may paint a picture of a stalker-ish, obsessed fan, the term has morphed over the years to describe anyone expressing a level of dedication higher than a casual fan (or a “local,” in stan Twitter language) normally would.
my love for:
taylor swift myself
— carløs 𝓵𝓸𝓿𝓮𝓻 (@backtocarlos) September 17, 2019
Dr. Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist who focuses on celebrity psychology, says it’s the communal aspect that makes it easy to get sucked into the intensity of stan culture. “People are searching for meaning, and for community, and for a sense of belonging. When you can become part of a group, you get that feeling.”
She says these kinds of fanbases are really about “reflected glory,” or, in other words, “what the person is getting out of being such a tremendous fan. They can be part of something larger than themselves.”
Keidra Chaney, co-creator of The Learned Fangirl, explained this mentality in an episode titled “Stan Culture” for the podcast “Fansplaining.” Chaney describes stan culture as stemming from a feeling of “‘I will do [whatever it takes],’ being a part of that army, to defend my person.”
She also points out that stans engage in a sort of “constant consumption” of that person, feeling like they truly know them because they’re “communicating” with them daily online (even if it’s one-sided). “‘They need me and I need them and we depend on each other,’ like, ‘I consume their content and they depend on my love.'”
Me: I wanna check out BTS’ music!
Stans: awesome! it’ll be super fun 😀
Me: yay! where do I start?
Stans: so first you need to listen to 17 albums, read 53 books, understand Korean, watch like 40 films, study Korean politics and culture, and be best friends with Hermann Hesse-
— Naama 🌈 (@iknowplacesmp6) September 18, 2019
This means that it’s easy for stans to form a kind of parasocial relationship with their fave — a one-sided dynamic where they expend all their energy, interest, and time on a celebrity. Rockwell explains this is why the illusion of “closeness” to famous folks in the digital age can be almost dangerous. “You can very easily end up with issues where you think that you actually have a relationship with your favorite celebrity. It can take up a tremendous amount of time, and usurp a person’s attention from their own personal and professional lives.”
Celebrity Culture: The pressure to perform — “when they win, we win”
Supporting your idols can involve a lot of keeping up appearances — whether that means dropping hundreds to thousands of dollars on merch, or constant engagement through tweeting and streaming — all in the name of maintaining their success.
It’s hard for similar groups to ever reach the superstar status of BTS, so in fans’ minds, that justifies dropping big bucks on every release and concert ticket: Fans need to fund their faves’ continuing existence. Vice reported that some fans work two or three jobs to afford spending on their idols, bully others out of buying off-brand merch, and buy multiple albums to get a better chance at winning an in-person signing.
The message is clear: The amount you’re willing to go into debt equals your real dedication as a fan.
it really hurts me everytime i saw tweets like “they [kpop groups] spent for you that much and you are not going to buy their album as a return?” people, you didn’t know how much i wanted to buy those goods, but please understand that we are not rich.
— Julie (@habitualboo) April 15, 2018
💵 Money 💵
💵 For BTS 💵
💵 Comeback 💵
— ♥ Mariiiii ♥ (@youxeverything) March 27, 2019
On the podcast, Chaney says that it’s not enough to say you love that celebrity or spend money on them, but you also have to actively fight for their success. “Beychella is over because it’s Arichella now. People feel a sense of identity and purpose to support an artist, and to make sure they win. It’s like with sports teams — their win is ours. If, if Ari wins, if Ari tops the charts, we win.”
Celebrity Culture: The new digital hype team
Stanning often carries the responsibility of being an on-the-internet PR team for the artists.
Back in the day, me and my friends would try to join “street teams” for our favorite pop-punk bands — a hit-the-street-and-put-up-flyers type of grassroots promoting that goes back to the 1970s and became more organized by record labels in the ’90s. But now all you need is a legion of loyal Twitter stans to circulate a couple of memes, and — BAM! — instant marketing success.
That kind of influence is presumably how we got a Megan Thee Stallion hit from “hot girl summer” selfies, how a Korean group like BTS won Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards three years in a row, and how Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” became the longest-running #1 hit on the Billboard Charts after getting a big boost from TikTok cowboy memes.
But it’s no longer just about sharing memes or tweet-hyping about a new release. A stan’s work is never done: You’re practically tweet-shamed into retweeting every single post from all the big voting accounts that dominate your timeline during awards season. You also “have” to spam your friends to make sure they play their part in trending hashtags so groups can win social-based awards. The old “scroll past this article if you don’t care about X issue!” has become “the voting gap is closing, retweet, reply, and vote if you care!” Then there’s organizing fan projects, and fan exhibitions, and sometimes even buying literal retail marketing space, like the time the BTS ARMY spent millions of dollars on a Times Square digital billboard celebrating the group’s fourth anniversary in 2017.
The emphasis on always promoting your faves takes a lot of time and energy, though. “It becomes like an extra job for these young fans,” says Chaney on the “Fansplaining” podcast. “The only thing they’re getting paid in is feeling good about it.”
But Chaney doesn’t totally blame stan culture. “I think that’s the nature of being on social media — it can become all-encompassing, overwhelming what you do and how you think. The same elements that make people obsessed with arguing about politics on Twitter or Facebook all day [are affecting] people who fight about BTS versus EXO all day.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. In my own daily life, I made the decision to step away from stan Twitter, and released myself from the pressure of keeping up with every single thing BTS did. I cut off my spending and asked myself if I really needed that third BT21 t-shirt. I’m still working on knowing when to draw the line, but I can still call myself dedicated without being obsessive.
While horror stories of fans’ behavior escalating to harassment, stalking, and doxxing have become a main part of the stan narrative in the public eye outside Twitter, for the average stan, those issues are extreme and rare. We’re just trying to avoid getting burnt out on the very things that were supposed to bring us joy.
Celebrity Culture: Self-care tips for stans
So how do you avoid losing yourself in stan culture? We have some tips. Note that a lot of these are good for navigating the toxicity of social media in general:
1. The community connections you make through stanning can be uplifting. But stanning is not a replacement for daily self-care and mental health assistance.
“Sir, this is my emotional support K-pop group,” you say. Well, yes and no.
Rockwell says while it’s “very healthy to have role models in life and have heroes whose values that we want to emulate in our own lives, I think it’s extremely dangerous when we give our own lives up in the investment of them. Surface level attachment does not create the fulfillment that all human beings eventually look for.”
So don’t always use your faves as a crutch to ignore all other aspects of your mental health. Self-care isn’t always buying a new album, or having your idol tweet you back. Oftentimes it’s the mundane, and even difficult, work that gets you through life — like taxes, or showering, or reaching out to loved ones around you. At the end of day, when concert lights go down, you’re left with only yourself. (Besides, even Taylor Swift has to shower.)
2. Don’t feel pressured to spend all your time, money, or energy on stan activities.
“Stan burnout,” whether it’s from overspending or getting wrapped up in endless promoting, is real. Don’t feel as though you have to go every single event/concert/etc. You’re no less of a fan for it, and you can support your idol in many other non-monetary ways.
And if you’re not streaming Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” on repeat for 24 hours, that’s OK too. Engage at your own level, and don’t sacrifice your livelihood or your sanity — no one’s keeping a tally of how many times you retweeted a vote for #TopSocialArtist, I promise. While it’s harder to reconcile this idea when an artist is less popular, your favorite artists will go on without you.
“I’d rather see someone suffering from burnout working on a Masters program, or some sort of certificate to make themselves better at what their own passions are, then have burnout because you’re running after someone else’s dream,” Rockwell says.
3. Find spaces that celebrate the uplifting parts of the fan community and, ya know, having fun.
It doesn’t have to all be discourse blogs, callout threads, and drama that ends in the notes app! Follow positivity blogs, or take part in fan projects where you can do good in the name of your idols. For example, the stan account Harry Styles Daily recently held a fundraiser for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
Remember that while circulating hot, shirtless pics of Styles seems like something Twitter was made for, it feels good to take that passion and give it back to the world in a tangible way.
4. Approach your relationship to stan culture with mindfulness.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in petty fanwars and drama in the bubble of fan communities online. But if you feel yourself getting stressed or anxious about them to the point where it’s affecting your mental health, it might be time to log off for a bit.
While it’s hard to totally disengage from the global network and community that fan circles bring, Rockwell says it’s about bringing mindfulness into social media use. “If you have a mindful approach, you’ll know that there’s a time for it, and a time to put it away. Value your time and how you spend it. As long as you keep the orientation that your life is the most important, if you can be a fan of Taylor Swift and go out every day and focus on what’s going to make your life meaningful, that’s OK.”
I’ll still probably do my best to vote for BTS during the awards season, and maybe even cry a little if they win a Grammy. But they don’t have to beat me over the head with an album to tell me to love myself. I’ve got this.