The Secret World of Fangirls

Article by: Georgia Thomas-Parr
PhD Candidate in the School of East Asian Studies

The Festival of Social Science is a nationwide event which offers researchers the opportunity to present their research to the public in the format that they wish. Last year’s festival (November 2019) saw the hosting of an exhibition titled, ‘The Secret World of Fangirls’ which was organised by 3rd-year SEAS PhD candidate Georgia Thomas-Parr. The event, which ran for two days in Sheffield’s Showroom Workstation, was in collaboration with the individuals with whom Georgia had become acquainted during the course of her 18-months of ethnographic fieldwork at anime conventions and Japan-related events in the UK. 

Celebrating the creative voices of fangirls in the UK, the event sought to animate discussions, questions and re-definitions of the stereotypes that objectify and trivialise fangirl culture. The resulting exhibition was a collaborative vision which displayed pieces ranging from drawings, to photography, to films and fashion, including:

50 panels: attached to the walls of the exhibition, displaying photos and testimonials on the topics of mental health, consent, transgender and feminist activism, race equality and ethical sustainability; 

  • ‘Artyfacts’: creative pieces – both found and handmade – that resonate with and inspire fans; 
  • The fangirl banner: designed and illustrated around the theme of inclusiveness in the anime community; 
  • Ethical and sustainable kawaii fashion makeovers: led by two kawaii fangirl stylists using upcycled clothes; 
  • The kawaii immersion corner: a space where exhibition participants could immerse themselves in a kawaii wonderland, surrounded by fan-arranged music, and decorated with pastel bunting, fairy lights and soft furnishings. 

Overall, the exhibition explored kawaii (cute) culture as ‘a way of seeing’; a sensibility which resonates with certain individuals in a certain way with its colourful aesthetic. 

Georgia spoke about her experience of being involved in the festival:

“Being the written format that it is in (and with a limited word count at that), my thesis would not be sufficient enough to share many of the art-based, performative expressions and perspectives of all the fans that I had met throughout my research, so I wanted to create a dynamic and engaging space which would bring everything (and everyone) together. I was really honoured to be able to run this exhibition, of which it would not have happened without the help from the individuals I had the pleasure to meet during my PhD. It was through all their effort, support, generosity and creativity which made this event come alive in the way that it did. I could not have asked for a more memorable conclusion to the end of my fieldwork, of which this has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my PhD so far.”

Georgia would like to thank the Economic and Social Research Council for funding both the exhibition and her doctoral and Masters studies, and SEAS for providing additional funding for the exhibition. 

Exhibition Photos:

Manga, pastel bunting and panels.





Joy prepares panels in the exhibition set-up








Satya (right) who led the ethical and sustainable kawaii makeovers

Ethical kawaii stylist Yasmeen poses in the kawaii immersion corner

The fangirl banner, designed and illustrated by Joy (left) and Bri (right)

The kawaii immersion corner