The Stop Girl has seen what you’re saying, and she finds it a bit unsettling.
The Stop Girl is Sarah. She doesn’t want to give you her last name, even though she knows “people are crafty,” and will probably sort it out. But you can’t blame her for being a little uneasy. She went to a game and left as a meme.
For the uninitiated, Sarah has become an unlikely, mysterious star on the Internet through no fault of her own. On Sept. 18, 2010, while attending the University of Arizona, she went to watch her Wildcats play against Iowa. An early Arizona lead unraveled, and Iowa tied the game, 27-27, in the fourth quarter. She was not pleased at this development.
To add to her misery, a rowdy student section had been playing to the cameras all game, so she leaned over the railing to get a little distance from her fellow fans.
She saw an ESPN cameraman train his camera on her. Then, to her surprise, the red light came on. As the camera stayed fixed on her, she playfully implored the cameraman to stop, melting hearts in the process.
Somehow, two years later, she reappeared as an animated GIF, a perpetual loop that became increasingly celebrated on reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the internet.”
There is a whole “subreddit” devoted to Sarah’s animated mood swing, with nearly 12,000 subscribers who do nothing more than post the GIF in response to titles like, “Dear North Korea.” The file has been uploaded many times across many services. But at least one has been viewed about 1.4 million times.
She sees it all, even if she’s not sure what she thinks about it.
“I look at it every once in a while. I’m just like surprised at how popular it’s been, and it’s only getting more popular, it seems,” Sarah told Playbook. “I remember going home that night and my friends being like, ‘We saw you on TV.’ Maybe six months later, a friend texted me and was like, ‘Hey, you’re on this website.’”
She said it was a message board on which someone had used the photo as their signature on their posts.
“Now, [two years later], it’s all over reddit, and it’s getting really popular,” she said.
She speaks about it in a self-deprecating, aw-shucks manner that fits her seconds-long Internet image.
“Everyone says things like, ‘Who is this girl? We can’t figure out. I wanna marry her. Her smile’s so nice,’” she said. “Sometimes, it’s like, wow, that’s weird. People watch this over and over for two hours straight. That’s weird.”
Buzzfeed listed The Stop Girl among “The 54 Best Animated Gifs of 2012,” under a header describing it as “This girl’s smile.”
Ryan Broderick, who created the list, said it’s the range of emotions displayed in the clip that make it so popular.
“You can use it as a reaction to anything. And, a lot of it is that a lot of users on the Internet are quite taken with her,” Broderick said. “Her emotion in the GIF is so specific, but also universal. When you’re laughing at something and you don’t want to be laughing at it, and you don’t want to be smiling that’s universal. It’s never been summed up in an animated GIF so well before.
“And 2012 just seemed to be the right time when the girl smiling and saying, ‘Stop!’ worked perfectly and just kind of stuck around.”
Within the context of the reaction itself, there’s even been debate. Some have speculated that The Stop Girl was actually saying, “No.”
Sarah puts that to rest.
“I love the debate over whether I said ‘No’ or ‘Stop,’” she said. “I said ‘Stop,’ because I thought, ‘I can’t yell at this cameraman.’ I guess the whole argument is because my lips didn’t close at the end of the word.”
“OK guys, this is reading into it a little bit too much.”
Sarah obviously hasn’t tried to capitalize on the attention. She recently graduated from Arizona and is beginning her career. She said no one seems to have randomly recognized her in public, but she has heard from old friends who realized it was her.
“Some people I haven’t talked to since elementary school have asked, ‘Hey, is this you?’ she said. “One of my friends who’s older said, ‘My sons want to meet you and have dinner. My sons think I’m so cool now that I know Stop Girl.’”
Broderick said the mystery has long been part of the appeal.
“Absolutely. I’ve seen where they’ll be like, ‘Who is this girl? Where is she from?’ he said. “No one knows who she is. It has allowed the fascination to keep going. Once you learn the backstory of the meme, or the background of an Internet joke, it loses a little bit of its fun. It stops being something so spontaneous and weird. It just becomes a normal thing. It allows you to always wonder and always use it and never know the reality.”
So we’re sorry to ruin a little of that fun, but while we’re at it, here’s one more crushing blow from The Stop Girl:
“I do have a boyfriend,” she said.