Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes has a fandom of 'Holmies' that hail her as a 'girl boss' despite fraud charges

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Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes' fans are known as "Holmies." CNBC/Getty Images
  • Fans of Elizabeth Holmes have turned up to support her in her ongoing court case.

  • Holmes, the founder of defunct blood-testing company Theranos, faces multiple fraud charges.

  • A small group of online fans praises Holmes as a "girl boss."

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Three blond women dressed in black waited outside a courtroom to catch a glimpse of their hero on September 9. They were captured in a photo tweeted by journalist Dorothy Atkins, as she reported on the trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford at 19 to start her blood-testing business Theranos, has been charged with "massive fraud" since the company, which was once valued at $9 billion, was accused of selling its services despite known shortcomings and inaccuracies in its blood-testing technology. Holmes became infamous after journalist John Carreyrou's investigative book "Bad Blood" and several popular podcasts documented Theranos' downfall. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Despite the charges and the trial, some fans online won't stop idolizing Holmes. TikToks with the hashtag #ElizabethHolmes have received 13 million views on the platform, showing people copying her fabled characteristics, such as a wide-eyed expression, low voice, and black turtlenecks.

@nanotainer Elizabeth Holmes would like both names on the coffee order please ☕️#greenscreen #elizabethholmes #theranos #starbucks #womeningames ♬ Sunny Day - Ted Fresco

On Facebook, an unofficial Elizabeth Holmes page has just under 3,000 fans, where people comment messages of support on sporadic, vague status updates. Another unverified account has comments from fans from just three days ago, saying "You go girl! We believe in you!" and "You're brilliant!" Several people have posted messages of congratulations underneath a false status update suggesting Holmes was "cleared of all charges."

Holmes fandom is complex, blurring the line between irony and genuine reverence, and even arguing supporting her is a feminist issue.

Holmes' cult following frequently labels her a 'girl boss'

The term "girl boss" was popularized in the 2010s to refer to women who had achieved an aspirational level of professional success. Since the concept was called out for a perceived lack of inclusivity and focus on wealth, it has begun to pop up satirically online with Elizabeth Holmes stans, dubbed "Holmies" by some observers, using it frequently.

An Instagram account called @elizabethholmesupdates asks in the bio "Are you on the right side of herstory?" and posts updates about Holmes and the court case. On September 10, the account shared the photo of the Holmes lookalikes outside the courthouse.

"In solidarity [with] Elizabeth Holmes put on your best black turtleneck," the caption read. "United we slay, divided we fall."

The owner of the account, Annuncia Roberts, told Insider she started the account as a joke for her own entertainment after following Holmes for a while.

"At the core, the situation is almost funny," she said. "I don't know how people fell for her schtick."

TikToker Rania Blaik, who has over 10,000 followers, has posted several videos about Holmes. Her Instagram bio states she is an "Elizabeth Holmes Stan." Last June, she said she went through a phase of posting memes of Holmes, and tagging her as a "girl boss" as a joke. It quickly turned into more than that.

By August, she was selling "Elizabeth Holmes is my #GirlBoss" T-shirts on Etsy for $22.25 each.

Blaik told LA Mag, "Having a fraudulent healthcare company with an awful culture and simultaneously being named Glamour's Woman of the Year is deeply funny."

Blaik's store is no longer active, but there is plenty more Holmes merchandise on Etsy in the form of mugs and T-shirts.

'Holmies' may be drawn to the subversive nature of idolizing a female villain

Not all of the idolatry is in jest, however.

According to TikToker Serena Shahidi, who has 424,000 followers and frequently posts about Holmes, a woman finding fanfare as a villian is admirable, either ironically or un-ironically.

Shahidi told Insider that people love that "there's a woman at the center of it all."

"I guess there's empowerment in the idea of having a female villain because that's typically something that's like very taboo," she said. "There is something kind of progressive about the idea that a woman in the news isn't playing by anyone's rules."

Male villain figures in popular culture have been idolized numerous times. "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli, for instance, who infamously raised the price of HIV and cancer drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a pill, has a fanbase.

In August, a cult following emerged for TikToker Cameron Herrin after he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for vehicular homicide. Film characters such as "The Wolf of Wall Street" Jordan Belfort and "American Psycho" Patrick Bateman are frequently idolized.

Being a Holmes' fan may be a sign of an agreeable personality

Stephen D. Benning, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who specializes in the personality disorder of psychopathy, has a theory about the kinds of people who celebrate those who are widely regarded as having behaved immorally or antagonistically.

He told Insider the people who develop attachments to infamous public figures generally score highly in tests of agreeableness - defined in psychology as being kind, considerate, and inclusive when dealing with other people.

"Relatively agreeable people tend to be more likely to want to form these parasocial relationships," he said. "They are people who want to get along with others, and who see themselves smoothing social interactions."

People may see themselves in Holmes, Benning said, seeing their own mistakes and hardships in Holmes', which are playing out in public.

He said Holmies may think, "If someone so competent as Elizabeth Holmes could be taken advantage of so badly, that might help explain some of the problems that I've had with people taking advantage of me as well."

The women who dress up as her may perceive themselves as helping her in some way, he said. This could be because they believe they are picking up subtle signs that she is a good person deep down.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.

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