"Everypony, without further ado we'd like to introduce the creator of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Lauren Faust!"
4,000 fans leap from their chairs. The predominantly male crowd claps and whistles and screams Faust's name, the auditorium echoing with their cheers.
When Lauren Faust developed the idea for a new iteration of Hasbro's animated show My Little Pony, the last place she thought it would land her was here, on a stage in front of thousands of screaming men. She surveys the audience at Meadowlands Expo Center and covers her face, overwhelmed by the fans' joy and adoration.
Attendees enter the Expo Center for Bronycon
The last convention, held in January, drew 800 fans. But when Faust was announced as keynote speaker, RSVPs for the June 30–July 1 event skyrocketed. Attendance was capped at 4,000, with another 3,500 bronies watching the live stream online.
"I wanted a respectable show for girls," Faust explains. "Saying something is 'for girls' or 'girly' is usually equated with being not worthwhile, being stupid." She wanted to change that, but she never expected she'd be so successful.
"I never dreamed adult men would be into the show," she tells the crowd, "because I didn't have any faith that you'd give it a try. Now I know better. It gives me the courage to continue."
The crowd is on its feet again. This time they chant, "You were right! You were right!" Once again, Faust covers her face—this time to wipe away tears.
The next day at 9 am, a line of bronies snakes around her table. One brony is dressed as Prince Shining Armor in a red jacket with blue hair; another has donned a full-body suit of red for his favorite character, Big Mac.
Left: A brony dressed as Big Mac shows off a plushy—a custom-designed stuffed pony. Right: A brony dressed as Prince Shining Armor.
What does Lauren Faust think of these unusual fans? "I think it's awesome!" she enthuses. The fact that bronies are comfortable enough in their sexuality—whatever it may be—and brave enough to express their fascination with a show for girls is inspiring, Faust adds. "I hope that they inspire other people to open their minds as well." She'd like to think they're paving the way for other men to express their interest in "girly" things.
"Up until now," she continues, "they've had to hide that or pretend that they don't like it or shove it down inside themselves. Now, because of the brony community, they can express it." Many bronies are encouraged to be open about their fandom because of the online community, she explains. "And I think it's bringing more people in because they feel free to be themselves."
Not everyone is as accepting as Faust of the brony movement. "People are so uncomfortable with bronies because they think no self-respecting man would lower himself to be interested in girl things unless he's perverted," says Faust. Being girly is the ultimate insult, and it's unfair to both men and girls.
It's obvious that the bronies worship her, but it's difficult for Faust to know what role she plays for her fans. "It's kinda up to them," she says. Although she created the show, she no longer works on it. "I'm still trying to figure out what my role is here and how I'm supposed to contribute moving forward."
Purple Tinker, the founder of Bronycon, is emphatic about Faust's importance in the brony community. "She is a mother figure to bronies," she says simply. "She always will be. Everypony in the community loves Lauren."
Faust signed up for Twitter before arriving at Bronycon, and in 24 hours she'd amassed 10,000 followers. "I've got an audience already, and that's exciting," she says. "Hopefully they like what I do in the future as well."
To see My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic resound with so many fans of so many stripes gives her courage.
"My whole career has always been about wanting to make great entertainment for girls, and it is hard. It is really, really, really hard. Frankly, nobody has the guts to try to put on all-girl programming."
When pitching future shows for girls, she says, she can point to My Little Pony's cross-market success. "Now I can say, I know this makes you feel uncomfortable, but look at what happened here."
She hopes that the growth of the brony fandom signals wider acceptance of breaking gender barriers. "It breaks my heart that the word 'girly' is synonymous with 'stupid,'" she says candidly. "I want so badly for that to change. If this is a start in the direction of maybe changing that, or at least making that better, I can die happy."
Photos by Melody Wilson