Trigger warning: abuse
If I were to ask you, “What is the first story that comes to mind when you think of fanfiction that has been published as a book?”, what would you say? More than likely, you may think of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. But did you know that there is another fanfiction series that has been published?
In 2013, Anna Todd, then 24-years-old, started writing One Direction fanfiction After on Wattpad. The story depicts a romance between wholesome college student Tessa Young and bad boy Harry Styles, who is covered in tattoos and piercings. One year later, Todd’s story underwent a number of changes (including changing Harry’s name to Hardin Scott), before she published the first three books through Simon and Schuster. Since then, she’s published four more books related to the series and even has had a movie deal picked up by Paramount. Sounds pretty sweet, huh?
Unfortunately, After sends very dangerous messages. Hardin and Tessa, affectionately called “Hessa” by fans, have a love/hate relationship, which turns nasty during several points throughout the series. The following quotes show some of these points.
“I want you, and I should be able to have you whenever I want to” -Hardin to Tessa, After
“Get away from me!” I scream as he grabs my arm. -Tessa on Hardin, After 2
I look at him and his face [is] twisted up in anger. He is trying to control it, I can tell, but it’s about to boil over. -Tessa on Hardin, After 2
He removes one of his hands from my wrists but his other hand is large enough to hold both. For a second I think he may slap me. -Tessa on Hardin, After
Are there warning bells going off in your head? Then congrats, you recognize the signs of an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, the majority of After fans don’t see these signs.
The majority of After fans are in their early-to-mid-teens. This age group is more likely to be influenced by what they read. Because Todd wrote “Hessa” as if they were just an imperfect couple going through normal relationship issues, her fans see them as such. If someone points out the signs of abuse, they will deny there’s anything wrong. Todd herself has even defended these arguments. In a tweet that has since been deleted, she wrote:
Thank you, Ms. Todd, for diminishing serious issues real people have gotten hurt — or even died — from as merely “entertainment”.
As stated earlier, After is a fanfic initially featuring Harry Styles. While Todd insists she doesn’t want it to be related to him anymore, she has failed to follow up on this claim. From articles to book covers, it’s clear he will continue to be mentioned.
While fans insist the story is fiction and can’t harm Styles’ image, we should remember the effect fiction can have. The movie Jaws caused many people to set out and hunt great white sharks, while The Catcher in the Rye was linked as an influence for the murderer of John Lennon. Now, Styles is falling victim to these effects.
If you’re reading this, and still like or want to read After, I can’t stop you. It’s your choice. Please don’t idolize Hessa or any other toxic relationship, though. Abuse is not love, and it never will be.