This is the story of how cosplay made me love myself.
Eat. Hate myself.
Skip the gym because I had a rough day. Hate myself.
Stare at photographs of myself. Hate myself.
Starve myself for a day. Hate myself.
Eat. Hate myself.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’ve never had a good relationship with my body. I used to lay in bed at night and wish, wish, WISH - please, please let me wake up in the morning with a different body. In college I wouldn’t leave the house for a week because I was so terrified of people seeing me - of JUDGING me and policing the way I looked.
I keep clothes around that are much too small for me. I look at them and murmur: “someday…”
I stare in the mirror and I pinch my fat. Tears roll down my cheeks when I see the squishiness of my thighs. I collapse on my closet floor when trying to compile outfits because I JUST DON’T LOOK RIGHT. I JUST DON’T FEEL RIGHT.
This has been my life. It didn’t matter if I was at my lowest weight of 125lbs or my highest of 180lbs: No matter what, I look in the mirror and I feel that the woman staring back at me isn’t what she should be.
I compare myself to my skinnier, prettier friends. I push the fat on my inner thighs aside to see what I would look like with a gap in between my legs. I suck my stomach in and touch my ribs: “There, that’s beautiful.”
About five years ago I started to cosplay for the first time. At first, it was difficult for me. I thrived on the attention that cosplaying brought, but I felt that with this excuse for people to look at me - after all, I was representing characters that were so unreal - that everyone was thinking to themselves: “Ugh, look at her. Look at that fat, disgusting girl trying to cosplay. That’s cute. *eyeroll*”
I picked costumes that were long and modest. I hid under the folds of fabric. I hid behind my own camera. I’d bring costumes to conventions, only to break down when I looked at myself in the mirror and take them off again, mercilessly throwing them into a heap in the corner of my hotel room.
Four years ago I was pushed beyond my comfort levels by agreeing to cosplay Knockout from the Female Furies in a group of empowered, beautiful women. Knockout wears a leotard with a thong. The biggest issue I have with myself is my hips and thighs - “they’d look okay on a black woman, but on a white girl they’re not okay!” says society. I thought that agreeing to cosplay Knockout would push myself to work out and finally lose weight.
I did. I ran and biked and lived on smoothies for months. Barely anything changed. I was still as curvy as always. But I couldn’t back out. I couldn’t let these women down. So I packed up my costume and I changed into it, stricken with terror. I walked around San Diego Comic-con in a thong leotard.
At first I felt the need to hide. Behind other people. Behind fellow cosplayers. Behind my purse. But then I felt myself opening up, like a flower in the spring. I felt the eyes on me - not judging and appraising, but admiring and approving. What a wondrous feeling it was! To feel empowered, beautiful, and sexy. To feel like I was okay in my own skin.
Thus began my journey to self acceptance via cosplay - and while I admit I still have a long way to go, I feel happier and healthier every time I put on spandex. I can eat now without getting panic attacks. I wear dresses that are tight as a glove and show my curves - my imperfections. At times I still feel like I am drowning in my own insecurities, but I recall back to those hours of being a superhero and suddenly I’m okay again.
So for anyone guilty of body policing cosplayers, for accusing us of merely doing it for attention, for objectifying us and ridiculing us - it goes deeper than what you see on the surface. For some of it, it’s integral to our identity and well being.