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My Little Phony

Elizabeth Boudreau

There are two critical facts you must know about me. Firstly, I exist in a constant state of longing for attention. Secondly, I am completely unprepared to handle this attention when I do receive it.

Flashback to October of 2013. I’m perusing various online shops in search of a wig. I’m going to be a mermaid for Halloween this year, and I’ll be damned if I don’t go full-out. After days of indecisive browsing, I’m fairly certain I’ve seen every wig the Internet has to offer. I settle on one with long, cotton-candy pink tresses that fall in a gentle wave. The hairstyle is completed with demure side-swept bangs that brush just below the eyebrows. It’s about $14. I justify the purchase by assuring myself I’ll find another use for it someday. I’m blissfully unaware of how important this decision will be.

Jump ahead now to the spring of 2014. My parents have just bought me tickets to LeakyCon, a fan convention for Harry Potter and various other popular “nerdy” interests. I’m 16 years old, and this is the best moment of my life. My mind immediately starts swirling with ideas. This is sure to be the most thrilling endeavor of my entire existence, and I have to make the most of it. I join a few online groups of fellow attendees.

The group members are widely varied. Even so, I noticed one interest in particular that many of them had in common: cosplay. Many fan convention attendees are passionate about creating costumes of their favorite characters. Even those who don’t actively participate seem excited about those who do.

In that moment, something in my brain clicked. My mind buzzed with possibilities. There I’d be, in a huge convention hall overflowing with people sharing their love for things deemed too nerdy to discuss in their day-to-day lives. Thousands of people feeding off each others’ repressed passion for three days straight.

There couldn’t be a more perfect opportunity to bring the pink wig back. This would be my chance. My moment. I was about to get me some goddamn attention.

There was only one issue with my plan: I didn’t know of any characters with pastel pink hair. And I especially didn’t know of any who wore it long with swoopy bangs. I took to Google Images, determined to find a match for my wig.

“pink hair character”- Lots of results. But almost all of them with short, bright pink hair.

“light pink hair character”- Nearly identical results. Frustration setting in.

“pink hair girl,” “pink long hair,” and “pink character” serves me no better.

Hoping against hope, I search “pink hair girl bangs long.” I make a note to delete my browsing history.

After what feels like eons of wading through a thick bog of unfamiliar pink-haired anime girls, I stumble upon an image that sticks out. This character has cotton-candy pink hair. It falls in a smooth wave down to her mid-back. Her face is partially obscured by her long bangs, swept off to the side. I can’t believe it. This little cartoon bitch is wearing my wig. Thank god.

Tears of joy and relief well up in my eyes as I click the image link.

The picture is of a fan’s imagining of a humanized version of Fluttershy from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Okay. Unexpected. But it’s all I’ve got, so I’ll have to work with it. I never watched My Little Pony, even as a child. I clearly need to do some research.

Although I’m not familiar with the series itself, I’m aware of its reputation. Namely, the reputation of its adult fanbase, who call themselves “Bronies.” They are generally regarded with equal parts mockery and suspicion for their interest in a show aimed at very young girls.

As part of my research, I watched a documentary about Bronies. It showed a different side of them, one where they’re just lonely, often socially awkward people who have trouble relating to people in their real lives. Watching My Little Pony offers them an escape from this reality, and provides them with a way to bond with others through their shared interest. The show is a source of comfort and happiness for them.

New perspective in hand, I journey on. Next step: character study. I search through Wikipedia articles, fan forums, and episode clips to figure out who this character is. My findings report that Fluttershy is, in fact, extremely shy. She likes animals and singing. She’s supposed to represent kindness. I consider looking for more information, but then I remember that this show is targeted toward young children-- not a demographic generally known for its appreciation for complex, subtly nuanced characters. It’s time to move on.

Another quick time-jump later, it’s early July, 2014. The convention will take place just a few short weeks from now, at the end of the month. My costume is finished. I had decided on a pale yellow tulle dress, with a skirt that fell to just above my knees. Above the hem, I had glued pieces of felt that I had cut into butterfly shapes, matching the symbol emblazoned on Fluttershy’s hip. I wore a ruffled pink tutu underneath to make the dress flare out around me, as if I was floating in my own personal cloud of foamy soap bubbles. It was sort of adorable.

I'm staring intently at my computer, poring over the newly-released convention schedule. My eyes eagerly scan the page, quickly making note of all the activities I want to attend. Suddenly, one catches my eye. Time freezes.

There’s going to be a Brony meetup. My starry eyes flash with possibilities. Showing up to a room full of My Little Pony fans while dressed up as Fluttershy? If I want some attention, this is going to be the way to get it. All other considerations flee from my mind as I set my heart on attending this event.

Skipping ahead once more, it’s late July. Day two of Leakycon. Brony Day. I wake up, already in a flurry of anticipation. I get dressed. I pin my pink wig securely to my real hair hidden underneath. I’m ready to go. It’s time. I leave my clean, white hotel room and head to the convention hall. Entering feels like walking through a portal to another world. Brightly costumed people hurry past busily, weaving intricate paths through the dense crowds and creating a flurry of color.

It would be easy to get distracted by the delighted chaos around me, but today I’m on a mission. I march my way down a wide hallway and into a small, square room. There are no windows, but the light from the fluorescent ceiling lights is almost blinding. There are neat rows of metal folding chairs lined up. I’m here early, but nearly half of the chairs are already filled. Carefully centered in front of all the chairs stands a podium with a microphone.

As I watch more people slowly file in, I’m amazed that there doesn’t seem to be even one person who isn’t grinning and chatting excitedly with others. It’s clear that some already know each other, but others are warmly introducing themselves and immediately launching into conversation like old friends.

As people settle into their seats, a small group slowly forms around me. They compliment my costume. I glow as I thank them. We settle into a conversation about panels we’ve already attended and which ones we’re planning to attend later. Things are going well.

The rows of folding chairs are nearly all filled now. I turn to watch the last few people shuffle in. A man walks in wearing a Spiderman baseball cap. I’m suddenly jolted from my calm contentedness.

Standing at the door, scanning the room for an empty seat, is Nick Lang, a writer and performer in one of my favorite musical theatre groups. I had watched recordings of their shows countless times. I listened to their songs every day. I even bought a pair of their logo-branded booty shorts. In terms of celebrity, he’s a relative nobody. But in a convention like this? He’s a rock star. No. He’s a god.

The room breaks out in excited whispers as people recognize who he is. My heart is beating so hard that I’m sure it’s making my entire body shake. My palms go slick and clammy. I’m starstruck. So starstruck that I almost don’t even notice when he approaches my group and asks to join us. It was simultaneously the most incredible moment of my life and the most terrifying. Deep breath.

A beaming woman with a short purple wig and a unicorn horn affixed to her head bounced up to the podium and grabbed the microphone.

“Welcome, everyone, to this year’s LeakyCon Brony meetup! I’m so glad you could make it! Make sure everyone is a small group, and we can get started!”

Okay. Go time. This wasn’t just about getting attention from a room of random strangers anymore. Now it was about impressing-- or at least not humiliating myself in front of-- someone I looked up to.

As the unicorn woman continues explaining the plans for the meetup, I feel a soft tap on my shoulder. I turn and see Nick Lang smiling at me. “Hey,” he whispers, “I really like your costume. Fluttershy is my favorite pony.”

I freeze. I’m being faced with a life-altering decision: do I confess that I’m a fraud who’s never even watched a single episode of My Little Pony? Do I explain that I’m really only there because I already owned this cheap pink plastic wig? Do I mention that I’m a huge fan of his? Maybe ask for a picture? An autograph? Or do I simply play along and hope for the best? I can feel the heat of my face flushing as I shakily whisper back, “Oh, really? Thank you! She’s my favorite too.”

“Alright everyone,” announces the unicorn woman in her cheery sing-song voice, “Let’s start with some icebreakers! Go around your group and tell everyone your name, where you’re from, and your favorite pony.”

The small room explodes with chatter. Okay, this is an easy question. I’m prepared for this. Still, I hang back nervously as the rest of my group gives their introductions. Too soon, it’s my turn. My hands shake. Damn, the nerves are already getting to me. I try to appear calm, but based on the looks the other group members are giving me, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job. They look at me with deep, sympathetic eyes. I realize I would be the world’s worst undercover agent.

I take a deep breath as I am struck by an idea: if I can’t hide my nerves, why not use them to my advantage? I’m here dressed as a shy character, so why not lean into my genuine shyness? My hands find themselves nervously twirling the curled ends of my pink hair. I speak in a soft, wavering voice as I introduce myself and confirm that yes, Fluttershy is my favorite pony.

Moments later, the unicorn woman is back at the microphone with our next task. We are to discuss our favorite specific My Little Pony episodes. Shit.

I try to follow my group’s conversation, but I’m quickly lost as they discuss plot points, obscure characters, and subtle moments. I listen closely, pretending to understand what they’re talking about. Then it’s my turn. Despite listening to my group members, I am still left with no clear concept of what the show is really about. I did learn that there are a few special musical episodes, and I’m pretty sure someone said something about a princess? All eyes are on me.

I’m glad to have a believable excuse for the way I stumble and stutter through my words. I let myself ramble awkwardly, hoping that saying a long string of words might be enough to convince people I have a lot to say.

“Oh y’know that’s honestly such a tough question because um really every episode is so good in its own special way so really how can you choose but I guess for me personally um the musical episodes tend to generally be my favorites because um y’know they’re just so different and unique and also um a lot the songs are actually pretty good y’know like I mean they’re so cute and fun and how can you not like that?”

“Oh yeah, I feel the same way!”

“Same! I actually listen to the songs all the time!”

“Yeah! The musical episodes are great!”

I can’t believe that fuckin’ worked.

The unicorn woman gets back on the mic to announce that the sing-along portion of the meetup was beginning. Finally, an activity that won’t put me on the spot. I can just sit back and quietly bob my head to the music, clapping for everyone else between songs. I can feel my heart rate slow as the tension in my anxiously clenched body melts away. The first song starts. I’ve never heard it before in my life.

I settle into my folding chair and enjoy watching the people around me happily singing.

Singing as though they are not in a room crowded with strangers, but alone in the privacy of their own shower. I think about the documentary I watched, how it said that many adult My Little Pony fans often feel lonely. Friendless. How much they crave the warm, deep connection shared between close friends. I look around and see nothing but joyful companionship. The air is tinged with giddy relief and celebration.

I feel a twinge of guilt. Who am I to intrude on this? I’m an imposter. Do I deserve to receive any of the attention I came here for? Do I even still want it?

I realize that at some point in the short time I’ve been in this room, my priorities must have changed. I’m not here for fleeting, empty praise anymore. I’m here because I have a lot to learn from the people around me. Although I don’t share the common interest of this group, we can still share this time. We can still share this joy. We can still share this taste of friendship.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone sliding into in the empty chair next to me. I look over to see Nick Lang. So much for sitting back quietly. My heart resumes its rapid fluttering. It’s time to get back into character.

“Hey, why aren’t you singing?”

“Oh, you know, I’m pretty shy about things like that,”

“Come on, it’s fun! Nobody cares!”

I try to think of a response, but he’s already back to singing with the group. He gives me a knowing look and a nudge. I didn’t expect this kind of persistence. I consider stubbornly staying quiet, but another glance around the room convinces me to give in.

A few mumbled, garbled songs later, it was time for the final segment of the event. The unicorn woman asks for a few volunteers to come up to the microphone and give a speech about which pony is their favorite and why. I quickly glance at the crowd around me. About forty or so people, I’d say. More than half of them with wide, eager eyes, practically bouncing in their seats. A few actually bouncing. Definitely enough volunteers that I should have no reason to worry.

The unicorn woman selects one person at a time to speak. There are six main ponies, and most people eagerly focus on one of them. After about nine speeches, the unicorn woman announces that there’s only time for one final speech. Hands fly up around the room. The air is suddenly filled with noise as people call out which pony they want to speak about. Then, one voice can be heard above all the others:

“Hey, nobody’s talked about Fluttershy yet!”

A small knot begins to form in my gut. I try to brush it off. Surely there are enough volunteers that they won’t pick me. Several arms still wave in the air, hoping to be the lucky one selected. Of course one of them will get to do the honors. Still, I sink down in my seat, just in case.

An elbow nudges my side. Nick Lang leans over and whispers, “You should do it! Raise your hand!” I try to dismiss him. “No, no, I can’t. I’m shy, remember? That’s kinda like my whole thing. Heh.”

Other people around us overhear and join in, encouraging me to be the one to speak. “There’s nothing to be worried about! Nobody will judge you! Once you do it, you’ll feel so good! We really want you to!” Panic sets in.

Very quickly, a ripple spreads across the entire room. People get up from their seats across the room to come offer their support. More and more join. The crowd closes in. A thousand voices speaking to me at once, trying to talk over each other, growing ever louder. A thousand hands patting my head, rubbing my shoulder, hugging me, grabbing me. So many hands that they become one hand, pulling me toward the front of the room. So many voices that they become one voice, chanting “FLUTTERSHY FOR FLUTTERSHY. FLUTTERSHY FOR FLUTTERSHY. FLUTTERSHY FOR FLUTTERSHY.”

I look helplessly at Nick. He looks encouragingly at me. There’s only one thing to do.

I take the microphone. The room bursts into cheers and applause. My entire body trembles.

Can I really bullshit my way through a speech to a room full of super-fans? What if I say something wrong? Will Nick Lang jump from his seat with an accusatory finger pointed at me? Will they chase me from the convention hall with pitchforks and torches? I gulp. Time to find out.

“Um, hi everyone, I can’t believe I’m up here right now, heh. My name is Elizabeth, and as I’m sure you can tell, haha, um, Fluttershy is my favorite pony?”

In unison, the audience coos an exaggerated “awww.” I’m taken aback.

“Wow, um, thank you, yeah so um, I really like Fluttershy? Because I can kinda relate to her in some ways? Um, so the obvious one is that she’s shy, just like me, clearly.”

Each sentence feels as though I’m trying to sprint across a greased floor littered with empty cardboard boxes. And yet, nobody seems to even notice. I hear some laughs, and even a whoop or two from the back row. I continue.

“Um, but yeah, even beyond that I think we’re pretty alike, y’know, like how much she cares for animals? Just because like um I’m a big animal lover too, so that’s kinda nice? And she um likes music and, um singing? Which is something I enjoy too, so um I guess that’s another cool thing. And I think maybe the biggest thing is just um how kind she is, just like, to everyone? So, um, yeah, that’s why I like Fluttershy.”

The crowd erupts into cheers and applause.

The meetup is over. I pass the microphone to the unicorn woman and stand, stunned. As people gather their things and shuffle out into the hallway, many stop to offer congratulations. We exchange lots of hugs, handshakes, high-fives, and even a couple fistbumps.

The crowd thins out, and I notice Nick Lang lingering nearby. He walks over to me.

“Hey, I liked your speech. I told you it wouldn’t be so bad! You did great,”

Wide-eyed, I stutter out my thanks.

“So I was actually wondering if I could get a picture with you before heading out?”

I struggle to keep my jaw from dropping. I take a moment to collect myself enough to agree. He hands the phone to someone passing by, the camera clicks, we quickly hug and go our separate ways.

A few days after the convention, a friend brought it to my attention that Nick had tweeted the picture we took. It’s a terrible, terrible photo. Even so, I sometimes scroll through his Twitter until I find it, just to prove to myself that the great Brony Day of 2014 was something more than an elaborate fever dream.

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