Alana ‘Honey Boo Boo’ Thompson Confirms COLLEGE Plans and If She’ll Continue Filming Reality Show
Alana ‘Honey Boo Boo’ Thompson Confirms COLLEGE Plans and If She’ll Continue Filming Reality Show

Just shy of her 16th birthday, Alana Thompson, a public high schooler, is saving to buy her first car, has dreams of being a neonatal nurse, and is trying to get straight A’s. She works after school and on weekends, and spends time going to the pool and the mall with her sister and niece.

But the work she’s doing isn’t typical. She works as a reality television star, and has been doing so since she was just a toddler. And she’d like people, including her peers at school who exclaimed “Oh, it’s Honey Boo Boo!” when she started there, to understand the name she’s known for is not her name: “My mama did not name me Honey Boo Boo. My name is Alana.”

Sixteen is a stark split in teenagerdom, one that comes with the potential for driver’s licenses, the end of high school finally in sight, and what feels like a line between your childhood and young adulthood. But for Alana, whose birthday is August 28, the ties between the past and present are tighter, and more documented, than most. Amid discourse on how we talk about teenage girls, particularly those who have a level of cultural presence and celebrity power that renders it too easy to think of them as icons or examples rather than human beings, is Alana.

As reality-TV lore tells it, Alana Thompson burst onto our screens fueled by “go-go juice” (a mixture of Red Bull and Mountain Dew) and pithy catchphrases. She originally appeared on TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras in 2012. The show, in part, followed then six-year-old Alana and her mother, June, on the children’s beauty pageant circuit. Later that same year, Alana and family were center stage on their own reality show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the first episode of which shows the Georgia-based group going to the “Redneck Games,” where they participated in a “mud-pit belly flop” and bobbed for pig snouts. The show existed at the intersection of class, economics, and family dynamics — a working-class family (or one presented as such) in a celebrity economy, with plenty of gleeful attention on the way the family’s location and social norms could be amplified for profit with little context for it.

Dozens of articles analyzed the show as a voyeuristic peek at the “trainwreck,” “white trash,” “redneck,” and “hillbillies,” managing to consistently divorce the terms from their history. Along with it came commentary on the child at the center of it all, who was widely considered too loud and twangy, too obnoxious, and just too much.

The coverage was so intense, it eventually fell out of cultural consciousness that the reality-television careers of an entire family were launched by someone who was, at the time, a child. Someone whose phrases and mannerisms (including those seemingly informed by racist stereotypes of Black women [though Alana refutes this]) are documented forever. They permeated popular culture to the extent that people forget this young adult has a real first name.

But she does. And she wants you to know it’s Alana.

Alana, who is easygoing and calm on the set of her photo shoot. Alana, who says, “I want to be the best I can be, and I want to make my money, and I also want to make straight A’s, so I just try my hardest.” Alana, who recounts that there have been times she’s sat on her bed and been like, I just cannot do this anymore.

While she knows she’s technically a kid, Alana says she thinks people still view her as the boisterous little girl they met via TV, hence the tendency to forget she’s not a character, but a real person. “Like Honey Boo Boo Child,” she says, emphasizing the “child.” She’s perched on a couch in a loft-like photo shoot space in Atlanta, comfy in bike shorts and Crocs. Those catchphrases, she says, “were definitely Honey Boo Boo days, for sure.” She doesn’t say them at all anymore, “but they still do stick around, because they were on national television so…,” she says, trailing off.

They stick around even after she’s stopped saying them, grown out of Honey Boo Boo, and into Alana — identities she sees distinct differences between. “They are completely two different people,” she tells Teen Vogue. “I would say that I do like this Alana now, rather than the younger Alana.”

This Alana is still a reality-TV personality — though recent iterations focus more on her mother and family at large than on Alana herself. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was canceled in 2014, after news that Alana’s mother, June Shannon, dated a convicted child molester, whose victims allegedly included one of Alana’s sisters.

In 2018, Alana appeared on Dancing With the Stars: Juniors, and the year prior, a reality show following her mother’s physical transformation, Mama June: From Not to Hot, eventually rebranded as Mama June: Road to Redemption, on which Alana currently appears. In 2019, Alana’s mother was arrested on possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia charges, and Alana’s sister, Lauryn “Pumpkin” Shannon, 21, was given legal guardianship over her.

When audiences freeze-frame her as the little kid who became a public figure before she was in elementary school, it situates Alana as a character amid a messy narrative, not a teenager whose formative years — and the trauma within them — have played out in front of cameras.

The family used to be together all the time, not just for filming, but for frequent family dinners. When June’s drug use worsened, it was like the family broke apart. Having Pumpkin, and Pumpkin’s daughter Ella, in her life was a comfort for Alana. Forgiveness was one part of beginning to mend the relationship with her mom, but the other was her mother admitting her actions were wrong.

“A lot of folks in this world do not realize how many people are actually really affected by drug and alcohol [use],” Alana says. (And she’s right: An estimated one in eight children age 17 or younger live in households with a parent dealing with a substance use disorder.) “It’s very, very hard. It’s something I’d wish on nobody, for real.” Now, she and her mom are working on getting “back on track” to where they used to be, and she says she’s proud of her mom for working on herself.

She’s proud of herself too. “When my mama got real bad with her [drug use], I didn’t know where I was going to end up,” Alana says. “I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve come.”

Her public upbringing means Alana isn’t afraid to set boundaries in her personal life. “I’m somebody that speaks my mind whether you like it or not,” she says. “If I don’t feel comfortable doing something, I’m going to tell you.”

More importantly, she makes feeling comfortable with herself a priority, despite how today’s social media economy breeds comparison. Recently, since she’s been wearing long lashes and long nails, Instagram followers are swift to tell her it’s too much (or “too grown”). “I guess people still expect me to be little Honey Boo Boo, and I’m not anymore,” she says. The stereotypes of where she’s from feed that too. “Just because I’m from the South, people expect me to be all country bumpkin, out riding four wheelers all the time, but that’s not really how it is,” Alana says. “There are so many folks on my Instagram that do not like my nails or my eyelashes. But I do not care. As long as I like myself, I’m good.”

“I don’t ever look at people and I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I was like her,’” Alana adds. “Because I don’t ever wish to be like nobody. I am my own person.”

Keeping that mentality at the forefront of your mind is hard in general — especially as a teenager when you’re growing into yourself; and particularly as a teenager whose appearance, language, and identity have become fodder for conversations on everything from beauty stereotypes, to what classifies as good manners, to how she should look. At one point, the television show The Doctors even staged a “health intervention” for her, where a younger Alana shared that she liked nuggets to a chorus of laughter from the audience; her appearances on reality television left no part of her personality and body unscrutinized.

Body shaming is something directed at her every single day in her comments section, she shares. She’s skeptical of the idea that Gen Z is dismantling fatphobia and oppressive body image standards. In fact, she says, “I feel like my generation is probably making it worse. Everybody’s all about body positivity, body positivity, until they see a body they don’t like.”

“I don’t understand why people think this way,” she continues. “Just because I got a little bit of extra meat on my bones, you want to hate me? I’ll never get body shaming.”

Alana focuses more on how she feels about herself, in her own skin, than what commenters have to say. “Like, I know I’m beautiful, and I know I got a banging body, so…I don’t care,” she says with a shrug. She thinks we need to be showing all different kinds of bodies, which is something she thinks pageants actually excel at.

What made her stand out in those situations was her personality, she points out. And yes, Alana thinks she’s what comes to mind when people think of a pageant queen: “I mean, to myself I was a pageant queen.”

Directly across from the couch where Alana sits, a team is dismantling folding tables of shoes and shuffling racks of clothes out of the room. Alana is unperturbed by the chaos. Perhaps in a habit borne of years of on-camera interviews, Alana repeats almost every question back when she answers, half thinking aloud, half framing what she shares with the conciseness of a sound bite. The circumstances are unique, but at the heart of the conversation is what some might consider “teenage stuff”: jobs and money, her relationship with her sister, and friendships. In other words, things a life is made of.

“To be honest, I do not have many friends. At all,” Alana says, remarking that her only friend is probably her boyfriend. “Because I feel like folks are so much like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m friends with Honey Boo Boo,’” Alana adds. “I don’t trust nobody really, so I don’t have friends.”

You have to really test folks over three or four months, she explains: She sees if they call her “Honey Boo Boo”; she watches whether they offer to pay for anything or assume she will, since they also assume she is rich, which she clarifies isn’t exactly true.

Unlike sheepish denials from other celebrities, Alana is candid that being on TV isn’t just a personal choice; it also feels like a smart financial decision. She’d never make as much at a normal job — and plus, she says, being on TV is much easier than a regular job.

“I want to have a life, you know? I want to be able to support my kids when I do have kids and stuff like that,” she says. “It’s definitely something that is good for the time being, [and] good for later on in life.” But she can also clearly see the day she won’t be filming anymore. At some point, she thinks there just won’t be anything left to film, and she’ll just be working her nursing job.

But for now, she loves working with her family — she doesn’t have to worry about people judging her at work, and has people to talk to. Alana says the person she looks up to most is Pumpkin, and her sister’s husband, Josh. Pumpkin, she says, “stepped up when I had nobody.” When she moved in with her sister, she decorated her new room, bringing only her clothes and personal items with her, leaving behind the necessities like a dresser and bed. Even though Alana actually loves decorating, “I shouldn’t have to redecorate my room like this. I should be in my own bed at my mom’s house just chilling, you know?” Still, living with Pumpkin has been fun: They stay up late, they watch movies, and spend plenty of time hanging out with Ella. “But I know it’s stressful on her, because she has another person to take care of,” Alana says.

That move, however, is part of why Alana is proud of who she’s become. She’s become a better person, she says. She’s matured. Despite the flux of coming-of-age in public — heaped on top of the internal chaos that often molds coming-of-age, in general — Alana is steady in naming her goals.

Before becoming a nurse, she wants to graduate high school and college. She wants to move out when she turns 18 and purchase a house, and before that, a car. She thinks she’ll keep working while in college, because she’s already thinking about student debt. It seems like the most practical advice someone can offer a teenager amid unpacking what matters to them, and why; who they want to be, and who they are: It’s not just relying on dreams or five-year-plans or reinvented selves, but carving out the styles, relationships, and moments that feel most like you at any given time that bring you a little closer to the version of yourself you’re always growing into.

As Alana’s phone lights up with incoming texts, the final racks of clothes are rolled out of the studio, where she’ll depart shortly with her boyfriend, who joined her on set, and a birthday cake the team in the studio gifted her as an early celebration. What does future Alana look like? She grins. “I don’t know what future Alana’s like. I haven’t met her yet.”

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Photographer: Peyton Fulford

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Stylist: Ansley Morgan

Stylist Assistant: Julia Kostakos

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You are watching: Alana Thompson on Being Honey Boo Boo, Turning 16, and Finding Herself. Info created by GBee English Center selection and synthesis along with other related topics.