I don’t remember the first time I realized that I wasn’t happy with my body. I don’t remember the first time I looked at myself in the mirror and started pushing my thighs apart to create a gap between my legs or smoothing down my “extra chins”, pulling my face back to look like the victim of a bad face lift. I don’t remember the first time I looked at a woman in a movie and then looked at myself, realizing I didn’t look at her.
I DO remember the first time a boy rejected me because I wasn’t up to his physical standards. I do remember the crippling anxiety attacks in college where I couldn’t leave the house for days at a time because I was terrified of people looking at me and judging me. I do remember sobbing into the toilet while I tried to make myself throw up the lunch I had just eaten. I remember hating the way that I looked, the way that I felt. I remember hating eating. I remember hating MYSELF.
Body issues have constantly plagued me. I’ve laid in bed most nights, wishing to wake up the next morning in a different body. I’ve had break downs in dressing rooms, envied and secretly hated my prettier/skinnier friends, and destroyed relationships just because I didn’t feel up to par with the person who wanted me. I obsessed – constantly – about the way that I looked. It didn’t matter if I was at my lowest weight of 125lbs or my highest of 180lbs: I still saw a marshmallow thighed beast every time I looked in the mirror.
The first time I cosplayed was about five years ago. I had casually dressed up in the past, but this was my first REAL experience with it – wig, makeup, character personified. I dressed up like an anime character named Suiseiseki from the series Rozen Maiden. But despite the fact that I liked the character, the main reason that I chose her was that her costume was a long, sweeping gown that covered my “hideous body” from head to toe.
I had a blast. I loved posing for pictures and getting attention, but I couldn’t help that people were judging me behind their smiles and cameras. I felt that people were thinking: “ugh, look at that tall chubby girl, she’s not small and petite and cute like the character she’s personifying. Ew. Why does she even bother?” It was ridiculous for me to think this way because I looked at all the other cosplayers – other humans of every shape, size, and look – and admired and loved them for embodying characters they loved.
I tried again, and again. I put on more and more costumes, became more knowledgable about my trade. The eyes didn’t feel as harsh and overwhelming, but I still felt insecure. However, I continued to push myself beyond my comfort level. I befriended other cosplayers, and finally I reached a turning point: I was asked to be part of a massive cosplay group for San Diego Comic-con, 2010 with a bunch of other beautiful, awesome women. We decided to dress up as the Female Furies – a group of characters from the DC Comics Universe – and I agreed to cosplay Knockout because I thought she was a badass (which she is).
However, Knockout’s costume isn’t yards of fabric to hide my curves behind. It is a skin tight leotard with a thong and boots – and by agreeing to cosplay Knockout I could already feel the anxiety building. But I figured that being held accountable for this costume would give me motivation to work out. And I did: I ran. I biked everywhere. I dieted hard. And it didn’t make a difference. The months went by and I was still as curvy as ever. The panic kicked in – should I back out? But I couldn’t. I was flying to San Diego Comic-con the next day, and I wasn’t going to let these ladies down. I COULDN’T.
The fateful Saturday arrived when I donned spandex leotard, my thighs and hips bared to the world. At first, I wanted to simultaneously cry and hide: behind other attendees, behind my purse, behind my fellow cosplayers. But as people stopped us for photos, I could feel myself loosening up. I felt the eyes – not judgemental and cruel, but approving and admiring. Something happened inside of me, standing there amidst a crowd of photographers and fans: I started to love myself.
It was like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. I felt a feeling I had never felt before: I felt SEXY. I felt BEAUTIFUL. I felt I was a perfect embodiment of that character, and by the end of the day I was literally strutting around the convention like I owned the place. I had never felt so good about myself in my entire life.
The high lasted for days, for WEEKS. I didn’t collapse on my closet floor when selecting outfits in the morning, I didn’t look at the photos popping up on me online and shudder. I looked in the mirror and smiled at myself, rather than scowling and feeling like I couldn’t breathe.
I planned for future cosplays. Instead of going through character pictures and selecting the ones that covered me up the most, I picked the ones with the tightest spandex – the characters that spoke to my personality, not my aesthetic “ideals”.
Thus began my journey to self acceptance through cosplay. This hobby has helped me more emotionally and mentally than anything else I have tried or experienced. Every time I pull on spandex I transform – I feel sexy, I feel empowered, and most of all I feel HAPPY.
Cosplay saved my life.