Still from ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’. Noah Centineo (left) and Lana Condor (right). Image from: https://variety.com/2018/film/news/to-all-the-boys-ive-loved-before-sequel-noah-centineo-1202922944/
There is nothing like the feeling of a celebrity crush, especially in the flurry of youth. The irreplicable rush, especially in the teenage years, feels so potent, permanent and irreversible. The stereotype of ‘the fangirl’ trivialises celebrity crushes, but research suggests that celebrity crushes are an important phase in the development of sexual and interpersonal self. They are a rite of passage and a safe space to explore our identities in romantic and sexual ways, judgement free. They shape our ideals, guide us when we make decisions about our own partners and even fuel our fantasies.
Recently, the cultural significance of celebrity crushes has been spotlighted following Noah Centineo’s rise to stardom. The heartthrob featured in two hit Netflix features, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ and ‘Sierra Burgess Is a Loser’, both romantic comedies. Within just a few months, Centineo saw his Instagram following skyrocket from less than 800 000 to over 15 million followers.
Looking at Centineo, there are undeniable patterns in the males who became heartthrobs in the eyes of heterosexual teenage girls. In her article, ‘Noah Centineo, Shameless Heartthrob: My date with the best thirst architect the internet’s ever seen’, Allison Davis writes about the ways Noah Centineo plays the part of the ‘Internet’s Boyfriend’ He posts photos on his Instagram account, addressed to no one in particular, but sound like they are speaking to you: “ I dreamt we were in love, then I woke up.” In interviews he states that he loves to read, is into astrology and is such a romantic, all popular pursuits among teenage girls. But Centineo’s quirks can be found in most popular celebrity crushes of the past.
They almost always have a facade of being “sensitive, emotionally intelligent, loving, nurturing, and protective”. This is your Leonardo DiCaprio and Shawn Mendes. They are also, to an extent, feminine and non-threatening. This is your Justin Bieber and Harry Styles. If they’re in a boyband, they will each have a unique, endearing personality. This was The Beatles or The Backstreet Boys. They are truly what we desire in the wake of teenage years, someone who will be caring and ‘soft‘, and because we will never know them, they will never dismantle the illusion. But has it always been this way? Where did teenage celebrity crushes come from? If we take a look into the past, the evolution of celebrities admired by teenage girls, speaks volumes about gender roles and their unacknowledged labour of love.
Prior to the 1950s, the phenomenon of teenage crushes – and in fact the whole concept of teenagers – was yet to enter the public consciousness. Popular culture was transformed through targeted content to a teenage audience, birthing teen celebrity crushes. The advancement of feminism and women’s rights movements, sprung females into sexual liberation and paved the way for fangirl culture.
As the role of women in society transformed, so did the admirations of heterosexual teenage girls. Progressively, their idols started to provide a contrasting masculinity to the pervasive toxic masculinity of the time, reflecting the growing feminist movement. Initially, stars fit somewhat into the traditional ideals of masculinity, but furthering into the 20th century, heartthrobs such as the members of The Beatles, and Leonardo DiCaprio showcased more feminine characteristics. As females began to dismantle traditional gender roles, they pursued males who were doing the same.
Two girls at a Beatles show in the 1960s. Image from: https://allthatsinteresting.com/fan-girls-history
Historically, however, teenage girls have never been taken seriously. In her article, ‘In Defense of Fangirls’, Sandra Song discusses the danger of ‘brushing these girls aside and laughing at how stupid whatever they like is.’ As a result, their interests are painted as shallow and frivolous, and when their discovered interests are popularised, they are disregarded. Song continues, stating that ‘the continual derision of the “fangirl” is damaging, it perpetuates the idea that girls act one way, and boys another,’playing on the popular trope that fangirls are obsessive, crazy, and impulsive, reinforcing a culture where young women are ridiculed. This notion is framed around the longstanding idea that women are overly emotional, hysterical, and driven by hormones therefore cannot think rationally and should never be highly regarded. The stereotypes surrounding the age of teenage girls amplifies this, making it both an ageist and sexist issue.
The graduated version of the fangirl, the ‘groupie’, also sheds light on the misogynistic attitude towards women in the music industry. Women and girls who show an interest in a musician or band are undermined, shoved to the waste pile because apparently the interests of females can never go beyond physicality, sexuality and superficiality. Seemingly, women are not allowed to have serious intelligence about music or popular culture, or understand its complexity.
But teenage girls have always been trend setters and always had influential taste, even when it is paired with obsession. What teen heartthrobs often do, is manipulate this, using teenage girls as a gateway to fame. Teenage girls provide a pedestal for these ‘thirst architects‘, but once they get their own platform, they want to remove themselves from the atmosphere of teenage girls, and become more serious and adult, much like The Beatles.
What fuels these relationships is their intense level of one-sided admiration. We fool ourselves into believing that we will someday meet them and capture their attention and affection. In the meantime, we will rehearse conversations with them and read fanfiction about how they will fall in love with us. We create secret Instagram fan accounts, decorating an online shrine of photos, quotes and videos. We believe that someday, they will give us our fairytale and they will meet our passion for them and make us feel special. Unlike our real life relationships, we only ever see their beauty and purity. We receive a filtered image of the person they really are because we are never shown their flaws, unless it is to frame them as perfectly imperfect. But what we want to think is authentic, may just be a completely manufactured portrayal for the pursuit of fame.
So next time you fall for a celebrity, entranced by their every move, remember that you are being fed a curated image of someone, and that in reality nobody is perfect. Having said that, fangirling can be really fun, so embrace the exploration of it and discover more about yourself in the process. Teenage girls should never be underestimated, and their interests should never be undermined. Young women are the engine of popular culture, and without celebrity crushes and fangirls The Beatles or One Direction would never have gained the same success they did. If you don’t believe me, read this excerpt from Harry Styles in his Rolling Stone interview.
“Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music—short for popular, right?—have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say. Music is something that’s always changing. There’s no goal posts. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. Teenage-girl fans—they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.”
Celebrity crushes can be magic. But teenage girls are magic too.
Teenage girls are magic!
Sanduni Hewa Katupothage
Sanduni is a body and a soul: a human. She is interested in arts, science, social justice and spirituality. She also loves lemonade and cupcakes.