Fandom Communities and Your Wellbeing

Fandom communities are a huge part of life for many of us! As much as these groups can help us feel like we belong, they can sometimes be detrimental to our emotional health.

Let’s talk about fandom communities and your wellbeing.

Quick Content WarningThis blog post touches on bullying, parasocial relationships, exclusionary behaviours and toxic communities

What are fandoms?

Fandoms are communities that form around a shared interest, generally a piece of popular culture like a TV show, a video game or a musician.

Fandoms are often about more than just enjoying something. Being part of a fandom typically involves regular and emotionally-involved consumption of that media.

Sometimes a fandom can even become part of how you form self-concepts and identity. Within fandom communities, members often share unique vernacular and partake in a participatory culture, where sharing creations and showing support for other creators is more common.

This can be a big deal for emotional wellbeing! Fandoms can provide a healthy level of escapism and form social connections. With these comes the potential for mutual aid, increased self-esteem and positive behaviour modelling from fictional characters.

It’s clear that fandoms can be really positive experiences for some people, but there’s also the possibility for someone’s relationship with a fandom to turn toxic.

Note: This isn’t necessarily a reflection on any group, person or even the source media.

Being part of a fandom can be exhausting. You might feel pressured to participate or constantly contribute to the conversation, even when you don’t have anything to say. This can intensify in times of “discourse”, or tension between “fanon” and “canon”.

There’s also the other side of the social element. Cliques or hierarchies can form, and if you don’t feel you have social currency then the fandom may not feel like a welcoming place. Bullying, parasocial relationships and “us vs them” attitudes can make fandoms feel toxic.

So what can we do when our safe spaces in fandom communities become unsafe?

There’s not a lot of formal conversation about this, unfortunately! But here’s what we’ve found.

3 tips for navigating a toxic fandom

1. Choose your people

You’re not obligated to engage with every person in a fandom, no matter their status. If you don’t enjoy someone’s input, leave them be and focus on those you do enjoy.

Even in your smaller circle, interpersonal dramas can still happen. But, when they’re people you really care about, they’re much more worth the energy.

2. Block, mute, unfollow

If you’re riled up by someone’s opinions or creations, the best thing you can do is avoid them. Don’t be afraid to unfollow, mute or block people online if you feel unsafe or just don’t want to see their content.

Sometimes we can be worried that people will be hurt by blocking, or might imagine drama that doesn’t exist.

Just remember if you don’t know the person you’re blocking, you’re not responsible for their reaction.

3. Know yourself

Knowing your boundaries and limits is key. Don’t try to be perfect, don’t feel like you have to contribute to every conversation. Fandom might be a really important part of your life, but it should be something you enjoy, not something that taxes you.

Fandoms are such a great thing to be a part of when your relationship with them is healthy. Unfortunately, as with all groups, sometimes things can turn sour.

Knowing how to protect yourself and stick with those you really care about is key to navigating a toxic fandom.

And remember, on the other side there’s the same source material you know and love, and many people who love it for the same reasons as you.

Let that be your guiding light towards a safer fandom experience.