Cosplay and Self-Esteem: A Response

This is actually a response to Mia’s and Liz’s lovely posts on cosplay and self-esteem over on Superheroesque. I wanted to get this post up last week, but I struggled a bit with how to present it. Liz’s video on cosplay and self-esteem and last night’s cosplay hangout encouraged me to finally finish it.

Back to the beginning

To understand what cosplay has done for me, I need to explain why I started. Tell you my “origin story” more or less.

I started cosplay back in 2012 after finishing graduate school and accepting my first professional level job. I was 25 and felt like at that point in my life I needed to put away my geeky side and be a “real” adult. Fortunately, my coworker and friend dragged (willingly, I might add) me to A-Kon 23 and changed my mind.

I jumped headfirst into cosplay and purchased my first sewing machine immediately after the con. In my spare time, I read tutorials, followed cosplay and sewing blogs, watched YouTube videos, and read books on costuming. Anything I could do to learn more and improve my new skills. I also found myself getting back into fandoms I loved when I was younger: Sailor Moon, Final Fantasy, various comics, manga and more. All of it was a welcome catharsis as I struggled (and still do on occasion) with finding a work-life balance that didn’t leave me crazy and quiet some of my internal demons.

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Lasso of Truth ready for action. Photo by Neither Noir.

Cosplay and Body Issues

When I started cosplaying, I never expected to confront my body image and confidence issues. I’ve struggled with body dysmorphia for a long time. I’ve always been tall. I hit 5’8” at 13 and my full adult height of 5’11” somewhere around 16. In addition, I’ve always been big, broad and built like an Amazon. Realizing that I was taller and weighed more than most women AND men did a real number on my head, especially during my days as a dancer. Spandex was not my friend in high school.

For many years, I felt like a hulking mass compared to my friends. Anytime I received a compliment on my physicality, I picked it apart and had at least 3 other things I hated about myself. My ass has cellulite. My gut pooches at my belly button. When I smile I have a double chin. Et cetera. It lead to a horrible cycle of self-destructive behavior that I’m still learning to correct. Learning to treat food and exercise as fuel and not punishment has been a long process.

Cosplay and sewing have forced me to face the tape measure. I can’t successfully make a costume without accurate measurements. The more I sewed, the more I learned to accept the number as just a number. It doesn’t determine my worth as a human being. 

One of my biggest “click” moments pertaining to this issue happened after the SciFi Expo. I had the chance to do cosplay photoshoots for the first time, an experience I never thought I’d have. But I worked really hard on improving my Rogue costume and wanted some quality photos of it. I broke down after getting the pictures. They were lovely and so was I. My size and my weight didn’t detract from that. For the first time in several years, I felt like I could look at a picture of myself and truly like the person I saw. It was a wake-up call, and one that I am extremely grateful for.

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One of the many lovely images from Aperture Ashley.

Reaching Out

Mia notes that there’s something empowering about channeling the character you cosplay, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m terribly anxious in new or unfamiliar situations. Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to a con by myself, let alone really talk to new people. But Wonder Woman or Rogue wouldn’t let the jitters stop them. Why should I? It’s been a refreshing change of pace that’s started seeping into other facets of my life. It’s a slow process, but I’m learning not to beat myself up before I even try new things.

As a shy and introverted person, going up to strangers or even people I follow online is often a difficult task. But it’s been one of the more rewarding parts of my cosplay experience. Over the last several months, I’ve had the chance to meet numerous cosplayers and nerdy people and make actual friendships. I find that cosplay is a big help in this area, because you’re pretty much wearing a billboard for things you’re passionate about. Easy conversation starter!

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Mia as Ramona and me as Belle. Vader unknown. Also, please someone write this crossover fanfic.
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Me and GlitzyGeekGirl (cosplaying as Jessie from Toy Story) at All-Con.

Learning and Living

I’ve only been cosplaying for two years now, but it’s had such a massive impact on my life. I won’t say that my body issues are resolved. Far from it. But I’m okay with the journey, which is more than I could say about me two years ago.

Cosplay has done so much for me. I’ve made made new friends, developed skills that I’m passionate about, and learned to see myself in a new light. I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.

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Avatar Korra is ready to take you on! And life. But only after coffee. Photo by Neither Noir.
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2 thoughts on “Cosplay and Self-Esteem: A Response

  1. Awesome post (I hadn’t seen the Superheroesque discussion – will investigate). I think the best bit is just how *happy* you look in your cosplay photos. It shines through – not just in the smile, all over.

    One thing I never expected when I started LARPing was what it’d do to my confidence. It’s different than tabletop roleplay in that the act of putting on the costume makes the process of getting into character more tangible, and after a while the costume seems to do part of the process by itself – I’ll stand up straighter and (allegedly) be more scary when I put my armour on, even if I’m not playing my paladin at that moment.

    Wonderful to learn more about your journey into and through cosplay, and I look forward to seeing more of your projects here 🙂

    1. Thank you! It still kind of blows my mind how far I fell into cosplay and how quickly. I haven’t been really passionate about a hobby in years, but I absolutely love costuming. I’ve noticed the same when I wear armored or more bad-ass characters. I tend to get real cocky cosplaying Lilith (BL2). Can’t wait to see more of your projects as well!

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