Harry Styles against abstract background

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Fans can’t get enough of Harry Styles being a ‘Girl Uncle’

There are several reasons why Harry Styles fans reacted in such a way, and the dynamics of parasocial relationships are part of it.


Kira Deshler


Posted on Feb 29, 2024   Updated on Feb 29, 2024, 12:43 pm CST

Decoding Fandom is a weekly column that dives deep into the world of fan culture and runs on Wednesdays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox. 

Things are starting to get a little weird on the internet––but don’t worry, we’ll work through it together.

It was a four-alarm fire on stan Twitter last week after Gemma Styles, the sister of superstar Harry Styles, announced she’d given birth to a baby girl. The responses to this news were about as low-key as you’d expect from Styles’ devoted fans

“GEMMA IS MOM HARRY IS AN UNCLE ANNE IS A GRANDMA I’M FUCKING SOBBING,” wrote one fan. “gemma had a baby GIRL so harry is uncle of a baby GIRL and i’m NOT doing well,” wrote another. Gifs of people screaming, cryingfalling over, and crashing their cars accompanied many of these posts, indicating the intensity of emotion displayed here.

For those outside this fandom, these reactions seem outsized, to put it mildly. “Y’all do not know these people….?? This is so fucking weird and embarrassing,” one X user responded.

Fans feeling deeply connected to the objects of their affection is not a new concept. In fact, the idea was first proposed in 1956 by sociologists

Donald Horton and Richard Wohl, who referred to this phenomenon as a “parasocial relationship.” A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship defined by feelings of intimacy and identification, buoyed by self-disclosure on the part of the media personality. Fans trust and feel connected to this person, an experience enhanced in the modern era by social media.

There are several reasons why Harry Styles fans reacted in such a way, and the dynamics of parasocial relationships are part of it. Fans feel that they know the Styles family—in some cases, as if they were an extension of their own family—and the fact that Gemma had a baby when they weren’t even aware she was pregnant came as a huge surprise. The shock of this news certainly accounts for some of this enthusiasm.

There’s also the question of what this means for Harry’s—and the fans’—maturity. The fact that Harry’s old enough to be an uncle and Gemma’s old enough to be a mom makes longtime fans feel the passage of time rather acutely. At the same time, some fans engage with Harry (who is 30 years old) in an infantilizing manner, calling him “babyboy” and describing him in cutesy, childish terms.

One of the aspects fans latched on to the most is the notion that Harry is not just an uncle, but a “Girl Uncle”—an offshoot of the #GirlDad expression. Fans have always loved Harry’s stated support of women and girls, and they presume this support will continue to manifest itself in his relationship with his niece. For fans, this imagined relationship is not only loving, but totally adorable as well.

It’s easy to see the gender dynamics play out here, as men are often celebrated for the bare minimum of decency, such as treating women and girls with basic respect. As an “object of love,” as Horton and Whol put it, Harry exists as a symbol of goodness and purity, representing for these fans the ideal of what a “good man” should be. For his fans, everything Harry does symbolizes a larger idea, and these ideas shore up the foundation of the relationship. Gemma having a baby means more than just childbirth – it also exemplifies Harry’s capacity for care and affection. Uncles deserve love too.

Why it matters

Reactions to this news have more to do with the fans than they do with Harry himself. What fans see in Harry is someone worthy of love and admiration, and someone who embodies what it means to be a good, kind man.

“It is only when the para-social relationship becomes a substitute for autonomous social participation, when it proceeds in absolute defiance of objective reality, that it can be regarded as pathological,” write Horton and Wohl. 

Is celebrating the birth of a child in defiance of objective reality? Perhaps not, but Horton and Wohl never logged on to Twitter.com.

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*First Published: Feb 29, 2024, 6:00 am CST