Barb From Stranger Things Is Gorgeous In Real Life

Fact: There's a little bit of Barbara "Barb" Holland in all of us.

When the Netflix hit Stranger Things premiered on July 15, 2016, the '80s-inspired sci-fi series handed us an instant cult hero with Barb, and we've been reluctant to let her go ever since. Even though — spoiler alert! — the character comes to a grisly end early on in the series, her memory lives on in GIFs, memescostumesmemorial candles, and hashtags (#WeAreAllBarb#JusticeForBarb.) Rest assured, she will be missed... for her hiked-up mom jeans, her impenetrably chunky glasses, and her utter inability to shotgun a beer.

As actress Shannon Purser told Entertainment Tonight in August 2016, the Cult of Barb took her entirely by surprise: "I didn't really think people would think too much of the part," the Atlanta-born actress revealed. But from the minute the show aired, "this response started to flood in, and it's been amazing." (She was particularly humbled by the rap tribute. We all were.)

But just how much do you know about Purser, the versatile actress and singer who also portrays Ethel Muggs on Riverdale and stars with Noah Centineo in the Netflix rom-com Sierra Burgess Is a Loser? One thing we can assure you: Beneath those glasses and all the ectoplasmic slime — and when an insect isn't crawling out of her mouth — the actress who plays Barb is gorgeous in real life.

​She did some "dumb" things in high school

Don't get it twisted. Unlike Barb, the character she portrayed on Stranger Things, Shannon Purser managed to get through high school without being killed by an inter-dimensional entity known as The Demogorgon

Nevertheless, in October 2018, the actress told Jezebel there are a few moments from her high school days that she's not altogether proud of. "[I changed] the way that I dressed and acted to get a guy to like me," she admitted. Purser was reportedly so smitten with the fellow — who was "kind of punk rock and cool and in a band" — that she even purchased a pair of Converse sneaks and "tried to, like, wear black around him."

Along similar lines, she told Vanity Fair in September 2018 that she went through "an emo phase," saying it "was sort of like armor for me." All in all, she described her whole high-school experience as resolutely "weird," even though she never personally fought antagonistic spectral forces from a nightmarish astral plane. For Purser, the weirdness had to do with receiving her education through a "homeschool co-op," which melded traditional classes with lots of work at home. Same diff?

She wants to be known for more than Barb

Barbara Holland haunts all of us, but she haunts Shannon Purser in ways the actress surely never anticipated. "Barb wasn't supposed to be a big deal," she wrote in 2016, in a now-deleted tweet (via Vanity Fair). Online publications (present company included) seem to have realized the name "Barb from Stranger Things" drives traffic in a way "Shannon Purser" simply doesn't. Thus, we get countless headlines like: "Barb from Stranger Things finally gets her revenge via catfishing in a new Netflix film," and "You need to read the essay Barb from Stranger Things wrote about OCD and depression." Oh, and "The Internet Got Barb From 'Stranger Things' an Emmy Nomination." On and on, really.

In September 2018, Purser was interviewed by InStyle to promote her Netflix rom-com Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, but she wound up talking a whole lot about Barb: "I don't want to be Barb for the rest of my life," she states flatly. "She was my first character and I really care about her a lot. I put a lot of myself into her at the time."

In that interview, Purser eventually switches gears and tries getting to the heart of what makes Sierra tick, calling her "unique and complex and cerebral, which I really relate to." Barb would probably relate, too.

Barb even haunts her Starbucks cups

Let's always remember Feb. 7th, 2018 as the day one Starbucks barista completely lost it — and all because of one Barbara "Barb" Holland. After all, that was the fateful afternoon Shannon Purser swished into a Starbucks to grab some coffee, but she wound up with something far more valuable than a mouthful of cold brew. As she approached the counter to collect her beverage, she found three small but weighty words scrawled across the cup: "Barb deserved better." She immediately shared the steamy bit of curio with Twitter and captioned the photo: "thanks guys."

To the jaded mind, that probably doesn't constitute "losing it," but that's because there's more. The aforementioned barista went on to live-tweet: "Shannon Purser is just quietly sitting in my Starbucks and she's beautiful and I am so happy and also crying in the back room i think I'm dead." That's losing it.

Predictably, that's when the entire Twitterverse apparently lost its collective mind, according to Hello Giggles. Here's an example of how that played out: "Not all heroes wear capes but some of them do and wear it in the front and call it an apron."

​She thinks Barb would've been the "Velma" of the group

Well, here's an icebreaker for you: If you were a Scooby-Doo character, what Scooby-Doo character would you be? If you asked Shannon Purser (and we suspect half the world would ask her, if given the chance,) she thinks Barb would've eventually established herself as the "Velma" in her peer group... had she only lived.

It makes sense though, doesn't it? After all, our girl Velma Dace Dinkley is just as brainy as Barb, and always insists on getting to the bottom of things — regardless of the consequences. "I feel like [Barb] would have been, like, laying traps for the Demogorgon," Purser told People in September 2018, "and [would be] figuring out what's actually going on in the town. I think she would have been that kind of a person."

And much like Velma was always losing her glasses, Purser lost out on some glasses, too. Apparently the powers that be couldn't part with that particular piece of Barb's wardrobe: "I really wanted to keep Barb's glasses from Stranger Things but they wouldn't let me," Purser also revealed to People, adding, "Which made me really sad." Same.

She's got a big fan in Noah Centineo

Barb's reputation precedes her... and for now, it appears to somewhat precede Shannon Purser's reputation, too. That should change as more people absorb the Netflix rom-com Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, which co-stars Purser alongside actor/professional swoon-inducer Noah Centineo. Incidentally, the heartthrob "absolutely knew who Shannon Purser was" prior to meeting her: "I watched Stranger Things up until the point that Barb disappeared," he confessed in a September 2018 video interview with Glamour. "And then I stopped watching. ... I was like, 'No Barb, no me.'" 

Meanwhile, Purser wasn't altogether familiar with Centineo's body of work: "I did not know who Noah was before we met," she revealed in the same interview. "I'm pretty sure I did some, like, light stalking and watched a little bit of him on The Fosters," she confessed. But that didn't make a difference: The two reportedly hit it off straight away during their screen test. Then they grabbed a spot of lunch in the cafeteria, which felt a bit like "speed dating," allegedly. "I just remember being struck by how earnest and charming he is," Purser continued, adding, "I found it so easy to be myself around him and get to know him, and that was really great. I really needed that at the time."  

What if Barb had lived?

Okay, well, let's try to look on the bright side: In some parallel universe, Barbara "Barb" Holland might be positively thriving and living her best possible life. Sure, in the relatively puny world of Stranger Things, the character wound up murdered by a craven creepling called The Demogorgon after a pool party ran totally amok. But Shannon Purser thinks Barb was ultimately poised for greatness... even if her corpse happens to be moldering in some alien dimension called The Upside Down as you sit here reading this.

"I feel like I see her being like a lawyer," Purser told Digital Spy in October 2017, "or a very socially conscious high powered woman." For what it's worth, Purser sounds pretty confident that Barb has a very good head on her very dead shoulders: "I think people need advice and Barb was pretty good at giving it," she surmised. "I'm proud of her. I think she would do well."

Indeed. If Barb were still alive, she could probably advise us on how to fill these Barb-shaped holes in our hearts.

She came out as bisexual

On April 19th, 2017, Shannon Purser came out on social media; a decision reportedly informed by some Riverdale controversy. According to Digital Spy, many fans were upset because a smooch between two female characters, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge (played by Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes, respectively,) wasn't developed in subsequent episodes. In a since-deleted tweet, Purser — who portrays Ethel Muggs in the Archie-inspired, Twin Peaks-indebted CW melodrama — dismissed the complainers as "angry beronica Stans" (via Bustle.) 

After experiencing some blowback for the comment, Purser made an announcement in another deleted tweet: "I don't normally do this, but I figure now is just as good a time as any to get personal," she wrote (via Digital Spy.) "I've only just recently come out as bisexual to my family and friends." Admitting that she doesn't really like talking about her sexuality, she emphasized that she's still "very very new to the LGBT community," and hadn't even heard the phrase "queer-baiting" prior to the fracas: "That being said, I have never ever wanted to alienate anyone."

She added that she was "disappointed in [herself], especially as a Christian who has always been taught to speak love to others."

Barb was never going to come back

Barb changes lives, and she certainly changed the life of Shannon Purser: While working on Stranger Things, the actress was also shoveling bags of popcorn and tearing tickets at a movie theater. But as she told SyFy in March 2018, all that changed when the world took notice of her performance as the ill-fated Barb. (That's largely because Barb fanatics kept calling the theater to see if she happened to be on the premises, so she decided to quit.)

And what is it about Barb that inspires such obsessiveness? Purser has an intriguing theory: "Everyone's had an experience when they felt overlooked, ditched, hurt or taken for granted," she told The Guardian in December 2016. "We all feel like the odd one out at some point."

Of course, there's also the simple fact that Barb was taken from us far too soon. According to producer Shawn Levy, that was very much by design. "Everyone wanted Barb to somehow be miraculously alive," he told The Hollywood Reporter in July 2018. But that apparently didn't phase him at all: "We spent maybe 20 seconds talking about it — notwithstanding the slug of death that was coming out of her mouth in the nether."

There's "cold," and then there's "cold." Levy is clearly the latter.

​She wants to change the narrative for "plus-sized" people

Shannon Purser has a bone to pick with the media: "We see so many insensitive portrayals of plus-sized people," she told PopCrush in August 2018.

The relative lack of plus-sized characters is a problem, too. The way she sees it, the issue isn't "necessarily the portrayal of fat people, but the absence of fat people." Purser admitted that while growing up, she had a hard time personally connecting with popular culture, mainly because "there was never a character that really looked like me."

Now that Sierra Burgess Is a Loser is streaming on Netflix, she hopes "people watch it and realize that chubby girls are just as worthy of a story as anybody else, and that they can have full and meaningful lives with love and romance." The bottom line: Purser feels like her performance in Sierra could ultimately have a lasting impact. "It is important to me that I get to make that narrative a more positive one," she says.