Self-Insert as Self-Love, and the Road to It

I've been wanting to write something about this topic for quite a while. It may end up being a very long-winded page that I come back to and edit multiple times; I'm not quite sure yet. But I wanted to start getting my thoughts out on the page, even if they don't make much sense for now.


I am a big proponent of self-insert. Self-insert can, of course, mean many things: writing yourself into an existing piece of media, creating a character to serve as your stand-in, shipping yourself with characters or putting yourself into their friend group, imaging what your special powers would be if you were in a certain fictional universe. It can be as surface-level or as deep as you want it to be. It can be a multi-chaptered adventure novel, a heartbreaking poem to your loved one, a drawing of yourself wearing a fictional uniform, or the many vague sentiments and daydreams that are inspired by your favorite story. I love every form that the concept of self-insert can take, and I'll tell you why: the vast majority of self-insert is a form of self-love.

Self-insert is, at its core, selecting a piece of media that's important to you, and figuring out how you fit into it. It's the sentiment that you belong, or want to belong, in this world that stimulates your creativity and your emotions. You can take yourself as you are, or adjust and tweak things until you find your ideal self that might exist in this world. It's saying that you find yourself just as important as these characters that occupy your mind so heavily. What could be more powerful than that?

I know that self-insert is often looked down upon. All you have to do is take a look at the concept of a Mary Sue, a perfect, original (and often female) character without flaw, that became the ire of so many fanfiction authors and stunted the creativity of many young people in fandom. I can tie the sudden drop in my joy at creating things online as a child with the moment I first learned about Mary Sues and began worrying that people were judging my creations with such immediate disapproval. I decided to take preventative action and join the bandwagon, creating strawman charactes to make fun of before people could make fun of the ones I really cared about. It didn't take long for me to stop posting fan content with original characters at all after that.

I'm not saying that the idea behind the Mary Sue - that many writers struggle to create believable, nuanced characters - is incorrect. It's undoubtably a fact, and it did really push me to think more about my characters beyond just their awesome special powers that could save the day. But it was also directed primarily at young - and once again, often female - creators online, who were just excited to imagine stories where they could fight evil with a team or go on dates with their favorite character. Constuctive criticism is an amazing, valuable tool when it's wanted. But sometimes, it just isn't wanted. Sometimes you just want to make something up and have fun with it without someone telling you why it's unrealistic. Not every artist or writer has to create with the intent of garnering fame or monetization from their work.

It took me a few years after these experiences to start posting my fan-content online again. I had never stopped creating during that time, but I kept everything to myself, and I was always hyper-aware of every little detail that somebody might get on my case for - a sentiment that seems to be more prevalent than ever now. But, as nearly every Neocities user will reiterate, the less focus I put on social media and the 'general' Internet population, the freer I felt. I found small groups of friends and followers that were excited by my OCs and really encouraged me to continue making them. I got bolder, and let more of myself shine through in what I made. And it felt good. While I still held onto the lessons about themes, motivation, and storytelling I'd taught myself after my initial Mary Sue scare, I was slowly learning that not everything you make has to be held to the same standard of storytelling.

It wasn't until I entered high school that I was brave enough to start re-entering the romantic side of self-insert. As a kid, I never worried about it - so what if I had a crush on Shadow the Hedgehog, or Inuyasha, or whatever cartoon character was my favorite at the moment? But then, suddenly, this was the biggest Mary Sue tell of them all - making up a character that added nothing to the plot, and only existed to get into a relationship with somebody else. 'OC x Canon' became a cardinal sin. And if I couldn't even ship my OC with a character, how could I explain that I myself had a crush on them?

From around ages 13 - 16, I completely shut it down. I didn't talk about having crushes on characters; I didn't let myself think about it; and I certainly didn't write or draw anything about it. I learned to 'curate' how I talked about them to make it more palatable for other fans. And I didn't realize it at the time, but this made a huge difference in how I consumed media. During this period of time, there wasn't a single new fandom that truly stuck with me. I found things I enjoyed, but it was never the intense amount of dedication that I held as a child, or the analytical fascination I have now. I didn't 'love' or 'obsess' over characters - they were just 'cool'. While I was learning to love my original characters again from a storytelling perspective, my love for canon characters took longer to come back to me.

The character that turned it all around for me was Koro-sensei from Assassination Classroom. I don't know exactly what it was about him, but I just couldn't resist his goofy charm and the underlying genuine care he had for the other characters. I felt like he would support me in anything I wanted to do, and it just... really made me happy. It made me feel safe and warm inside, and I thought to myself... I could feel like that all the time!

he changed my life! he really did!! and i'm forever grateful <3

It was really embarrassing at first, but I started writing and drawing us together. I didn't really share the things I made with anybody, but I didn't need to - just doing it made me happy. I finally got the nerve to mention it online, and, much to my surprise, the people I interacted with were supportive of it! And I realized that there are other people who love their favorite characters too, so so much! It doesn't just have to be romantic - there were plenty of people who just wanted to talk to or hang out with their favorite characters. And it just made me so happy to see so many other people expressing themselves, and that there really were spaces where you could be yourself and enjoy things without being called too obsessive or weird.
These pleasant experiences came at the tail end of my time on Tumblr, starting around 2015, when I first posted about Koro-sensei, and ending around late 2018. By then, I had pretty much made a new blog EXCLUSIVELY about self-insert and other self-indulgent things. After 2018, I weaned myself off of Tumblr - and now here I am four years later, with my own website, with my own self-insert webring, with my shrines to favorite characters and my marriage certificate generator for other people to use, and I am so, so happy to be here. I could not be more psyched about it! For real!

It makes me so happy to see people responding positively to these resources I've tried to make, and seeing people with their own shrines, and OCs, and self-inserts, both platonic and romantic. I remember seven (seven!!) years ago being terrified to like a character too much, before I met some other amazing people that felt the same way, and whom I'm still friends with to this day. On Neocities, it's easier than ever to curate a space where you can be yourself. I'm so grateful for that. I really want to encourage everybody to make full use of it, and to do the things that make you happy! And to everyone's OCs and self-insert characters: I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!! YOU ARE SO EPIC!!! Never forget that!!

I want to end this little piece with something kind of embarassing, but important to me... this is the oldest piece of self-insert art that I have from after I let myself try it out again. All the way back from 2015 on Tumblr, babey!! Yes, it looks bad, and yes, it fills me with a little bit of abject fear and terror because it looks so bad, but it's part of my history, and it deserves to be here! And now I'm going to finish this page so I don't have to look at it anymore!!

(ft. Korosensei from Assassination Classroom and Nougami Neuro from Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro! Matsui Yusei's characters really had a fricking GRIP on me lmao!! To this day, these guys [and one other super secret mystery character] are my symbolic trio of self-insert, and the moment I learned to truly love having fun in fandom again!!)

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