Last week, writer Jessica Lucas published an exposé for Input on one of TikTok’s most rabid fanbases: the army of middle-aged moms who stan for 22-year-old Will White. Rising to fame in the summer of 2021 through his flirty lip syncs and dances to 1980s hits, White developed an audience of older women who felt “seen” by his decision to cater to them. Over the last few months, however, some members of “Whitey Nation,” as its called, have allowed their internet crush to transform into an obsession, basing their emotional well-being on his online activity and risking their own financial livelihoods to help support his.
“I’ve seen women say they’d eat his snot when he had a cold, and I’ve even seen women say they’d lose the light in their lives if he left the internet,” one woman told Lucas. “If he doesn’t tweet or go live for a day or two, a lot of them will delete their accounts out of anger or get into fights.”
For his part, White has made no effort to put a halt to this behavior — or the stalking that’s accompanied some of it. How could he? It definitely pays. Through merchandise, TikTok revenue and PayPal donations, White has potentially earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from it to date. As Lucas reported, there are even small groups of fans who have banded together to commit to sending White a stipend of at least $3,000 every month, going into credit-card debt to do so.
What is it exactly that makes these women so willing to risk it all for White? His looks and music choices are only part of the equation. Of more significance seems to be that he’s willing to hone in on an audience that otherwise has few opportunities to feel wanted and attended to, even solely on a parasocial level. “We’re in our 50s, and we feel forgotten,” another fan told Lucas. “To have this gorgeous kid dancing to songs that were the fabric of our youth? It was amazing. Somebody was actually seeing us.”
Essentially, there are few other outlets for older women to feel as though their attention is valuable. While men of all ages have a seemingly endless source of women online to focus their sights and dollars on, White is among the only young men to specifically assemble “cougar” women as his audience without explicitly stating this as his intention. This appears to be a central part of the trick: Had White begun his TikTok career by saying he wanted to attract a paying, older female following, the appeal might not have stuck. Instead, his interest in older women — or at least enjoying their music — feels genuine, and that demographic wants to reward him accordingly.
Perhaps because of the lack of alternatives, though, this fanbase has spun into something unhealthy. Undoubtedly, the behavior of some of “Whitey Nation” would be immediately flagged as inappropriate were the genders reversed. Speaking of which, more than anything, this points to the fact that we don’t know what to do with the desires of older women. And because we’ve cast them aside, such desires have been able to grow and fester. Maybe if they had other means to release them, they wouldn’t be so desperate to do whatever it takes to keep White posting.