SECAUCUS, N.J. - Dale Fjordbotten is a proud "My Little Pony" fan, with the shiny blue body suit and yellow lightning bolt, blue wings and blue tail to prove it.
Like many "Bronies" - boys and men who like the cartoon "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic"- the 25-year-old college student turned out over the weekend for "BronyCon Summer 2012" at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, which drew 4,000 men, women, boys and girls, many in colorful wigs and costumes.
"I thought about what people would say. `It's creepy. It's weird. It's a ... show for little girls,'" said Fjordbotten, from Staten Island, N.Y. "It's just a great show ... the story line, the plot, the beautiful animation."
Bronies say they're a misunderstood lot who've gotten a bad rap from the media. They're all about the show, friendship, love and tolerance, and they have no bad intentions, they say.
"I discovered that there's nothing to be ashamed of being a Brony," said 19-year-old James Penna of Mastic in Long Island, N.Y. "People are into what they're into."
Outside the convention center, young men danced and sang along with songs from My Little Pony cartoon that blasted from loud speakers as a video screen on a large truck showed the show's characters. One observer said it almost felt like a Grateful Dead concert.
Inside, vendors sold stuffed ponies, pony accessories, pony signs, pony hats and just about every pony item imaginable. Stars who do the show's voices signed autographs and gave speeches.
Staff appeared to be a little overwhelmed at times. It was just over a year ago when BronyCon attracted about 100 people to some meeting rooms in New York City. Now there are thousands of Bronies across the country.
Hasbro released the first My Little Pony toys in 1983, and they led to television specials, a film and the first TV series from 1986 to 1987.
The brand stuck around through the years. But along came animator Lauren Faust, who was hired by Hasbro and sparked new life to My Little Pony when she created the "Friendship is Magic" series.
Faust had worked on "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" before dreaming up the land of Equestria, where My Little Pony characters like Twilight Sparkle, Apple Jack, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie get into all kinds of adventures.
Faust told The Associated Press at BronyCon on Saturday that she never imagined the show would be such a hit with teenage boys and young men. She said her main target was little girls, but she hoped to draw in moms and perhaps some boys with strong characters and compelling story lines.
"We live in a society where saying that something is for girls is the equivalent to saying that something is stupid, or saying that something isn't worthwhile," Faust said.
"I think that's awful and I think that kind of attitude needs to be changed," she said. "And these men are doing it. ... They're proud that they're forward-thinking and modern enough to look past this misogynistic attitude."
Faust said she, like the Bronies, is disturbed at the negative images some people have about men who like the show.
"There are a lot of people who when they first hear about men watching a show for little girls, they're taken to a creepy place," she said. "They think there's something wrong with that, something devious about it. I think that's unfortunate.
"I don't think you have to have bad intentions to like little girls or to like the things that they like," Faust said. "And it's upsetting to me that people jump to those conclusions. I think it's unfair to men and I think it's unfair to girls and women."
To set the record straight about Bronies, Faust, John de Lancie and others are producing a documentary that filmed over the weekend at BronyCon. De Lancie is the voice of Discord on "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" and is perhaps best known for playing "Q" on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Zac North traveled from his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, to be with fellow Bronies in New Jersey this weekend. He dressed as his favorite character, the antagonistic Discord, wearing a hooded and multicolored costume complete with a dragon tail, since Discord is a pony-dragon hybrid.
Why does he like the show?
"It's colorful and innocent, which is something I don't have in my life," the 26-year-old Sam's Club worker said. "I like the community away from the show."
Twenty-year-old My Little Pony fan Gabby Pantaloni of Hershey, Pa., said she was kind of shocked that so many guys like the show, as she stood in a line at BronyCon to get her picture taken with other enthusiasts dressed like her favorite character Rarity.
"After watching the show, I could see why anyone of any age would like it," she said. "I think it just makes us all feel like kids again. Some of us are afraid of growing up. We're all just kids at heart."