It was a staple of Stan Twitter back in the day: Any time one of the reigning pop stars would tweet, hundreds of accounts would respond, each bearing profile pictures of the artists themselves. For an unsuspecting Twitter user, it may have just looked like an army of Harry Styles' face, excitedly interacting and talking to each other.
That hasn't entirely changed in the years since, with plenty of stans still proudly showing off their faves as their profile pictures. But for other stans, the longer they've been card-carrying members of Stan Twitter, the more and more public they've become with their own lives, their stanning, and their faces.
Originally, posting a photo of yourself was rare, and making it your profile photo was simply unheard of. Whether it was low or high quality, everyone had profile pictures of their faves.
Kasie, an Ariana Grande stan who tweets as @bocasfave, told MTV News she kept her photo as Ariana for years after joining Twitter at the beginning of 2012.
"I’ve always stuck to Ariana profile pictures until just recently," Kasie explained. "It was easier and looked aesthetically pleasing. It was what everybody had!"
The same goes for Kaila, a.k.a. @fentymuch, another long-term, multifandom member of Stan Twitter. Originally joining in 2011, she was only eleven years old when she created her Twitter account.
"It was a picture of Justin Bieber's My World album cover," Kaila told MTV News about her first profile picture. "Back then, I didn't [post photos of myself] and it for sure took some time."
There was a clear reason why many members wouldn't want other Twitter users to know what they looked like, besides this just being the norm for Stan Twitter. With modern stanning such a new concept, they were nervous of what others – namely, people they knew IRL – might think about them having a stan account.
"I wasn’t sure if I wanted people to know who I really was," Gabby, a Shawn Mendes stan who joined in 2015 and tweets as @Iostlnjapan, explained to MTV News. "I know how kids can be in school."
"I had my account protected," said Jazz, a multifandom stan who's had multiple accounts since first joining Stan Twitter, but currently uses @Kortaesyonce. "I had a few friends on Twitter that, if they ever saw my stan account, they would never let me live it down."
As stans have gotten older, and stanning more socially acceptable, it's become common for them to post photos of their faces, even as their profile pictures. The language around stanning itself has gone mainstream, with its vernacular reaching young peoples’ everyday conversations, popular television shows and major brands’ social media accounts. Many even felt like they were "hiding" by not sharing their own photos.
"I made my profile picture myself in the middle of 2017," Gabby said. "I realized that I shouldn’t hide behind a screen or fake picture and just be myself, 'cause that’s what makes me happy."
"I’ve tried out having my faves as my profile picture before, but I just didn’t really like it," Jazz shared. "To me, it just felt like I was hiding a part of myself, I guess."
Kasie explained her reason to change her profile picture came from Ariana herself, who encouraged stans to share their own faces throughout 2013 and 2014. The BTS fandom underwent a similar trend in 2018, as ARMYs decided to take the group's Love Yourself era literally and change their profile pictures, too.
"It’s also an easier way for Ariana to recognize your face and who you are," Kasie said, highlighting her own experiences meeting the "7 Rings" singer. "Each time, I mention my name or my username her eyes light up. Sometimes she’ll just say 'Omg it’s so nice to see you again!' and it’s a beautiful feeling."
"I feel like [using your own photo] connects the influencer and their stans more," Kaila said, echoing the same sentiment.
Just as stans get more public about their lives on their accounts, the line between being stanning online and stanning IRL has gotten increasingly blurred.
“Almost everyone ‘stans’ someone or something, whether it’s musicians, art, football, or UFC fighting,” Jazz concluded — though some of those folks still need to look up what “stan” means.
Even if the locals might not fully understand it, the concept of stanning has certainly been normalized. And with less likelihood to be embarrassed about a stan account, there’s not as much of a reason for stans to hide behind a photo of their faves in 2019.