I attended my first Comic Con back in 2011 with a friend. While my friend burst into the Con scene in full Star Wars Imperial Officer regalia, I, on the other hand went with a Sailor Moon t-shirt I purchased the week before, worn under a black quarter-sleeved, knee length hoodie. (This was back in the day when I was still uncomfortable being in heavily populated social situations and always wanted to be covered.) Prior to this I had known about cosplay*, having seen examples on Tumblr but it was a whole other thing seeing it in person. I was in awe at the things people had managed to recreate and I was jealous of my friend for not only did he have the means to own such a detailed cosplay, but the ability to wear it as well.
It should come as no surprise that cosplay is a privileged act. How? Well, there is a double standard when it comes to cosplay, especially if you happen to be a female, person of color and plus size. In my friend’s case it was easier to get away with his Star Wars cosplay as he is racially ambiguous and as a guy is less likely to be plagued by negative comments regarding his choice in relation to his body type. Considering the fact that I am 5’3, Latina and plus size, I don’t “fit the mold of a (female) cosplayer.” As far as many are concerned, unless it is a “fat/black character” I have no reason cosplaying. For some fans like me the list of possible characters is very limited as for the most part there aren’t many characters of color, let alone plus size characters. For this reason, I felt that I could only participate in cosplay as an outsider, as a fan who appreciated the art, but never took part.
Even so it looked like so much fun and I desperately wanted to participate. By the time NYCC 2013 came around I was already well into my body positive journey, taking risks with my fashion and I was determined to take part in cosplay that year, even if it meant I had to make it myself. This of course lent to a whole other set of problems, criticisms and setbacks that I had not expected.
That summer I approached my aunt, a talented seamstress, for fabric suggestions. Unbeknownst to her I was planning to use this fabric to make a cosplay of Xing Huo from one of my favorite mangas, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. We went shopping together, all the while arguing about how many yards of fabric I would need to make a dress. (She claimed that i wasn’t being honest with myself about my size.) Long story short, she took the fabric, calling me out that I didn’t know what I was doing and offered to make the dress herself. That’s when I told her that it was for Comic Con and I needed/wanted a more conservative version of the character’s outfit.
Needless to say she created a Gothic-Lolita inspired version** that I loved, but couldn’t wear immediately. The morning of New York Comic Con 2013 the dress was no where near complete as we had been clashing over the overall design. I wanted puffed sleeves, but my aunt argued that I was too fat for them. I wanted a single piece dress, she thought it would be better in two pieces. Overall, our working together proved to be disastrous though we managed to “bare fruit” as they say. Fast forward to this year, where I got to finally sport the cosplay for its intended purpose and it was great!
I honestly thought I would feel out of place as soon as I stepped out of my apartment that morning. That I would bend under the attention, as well as pressure of not meeting the (female) cosplay standard and turn back to change into something more “safe.” I’m glad I didn’t. There was just something about shattering those ridiculous standards that made the experience so much more exhilarating (which was very fitting for my fifth Comic Con). I consciously made an effort to pick a character that wasn’t “black or fat-friendly.” Choosing Xing Huo was a simple decision, for one it allowed me to avoid wearing a wig (let’s face, it my thick curls can’t stay within a wig cap) and showcase my natural curls in an “anime hairstyle” as well as mess with the anime body ideal that she clearly has. Plus I really like her style with the plunging neckline and flared high low dress as it is the right balance of feminine and edgy .
Though I had mentally prepared myself for an avalanche of criticism from other cosplayers and con attendees, interestingly enough I got no negative feedback, but I also didn’t get any direct positive feedback either. Possibly because the character wasn’t immediately recognizable, which may be due to the fact that Tsubasa is a kind of an obscure manga that very few people got into. Either way I still consider my first cosplay to have been very successful. I am already making plans for my next cosplay as I really want to challenge myself a bit more; after all that’s part of the fun.
Have you ever wanted to cosplay? If you have what character did you go as? If you haven’t, what’s stopped you from giving it a try?
*Cosplay – the practice of dressing up as characters from works of fiction (a show, film, game or anime) while (sometimes) adopting their mannerisms and body language. It is a way to show appreciation and support for the chosen medium while demonstrating your skill at recreating the character in the real world.
**The entire outfit, down to the shoes, tights and gloves cost about $30 in total. I wonder if that is some sort of affordability record, not counting closet cosplay of course.