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Cosplaying helped me gain the confidence I could never imagine

As cosplaying becomes a more inclusive space, I encourage everyone to give it a go.

24 Jan

Welcome to New Tricks, gal-dem’s series on learning new skills as an adult, proving that it’s never too late to give something a go

It was a week before Halloween 2021. I had been setting up to bring my Doja Cat ‘Just Like That’ cosplay to fruition, after successfully completing my Sza, Poison Ivy and 1970s inspired cosplays the nights prior. I chopped the inner part of an overly-priced pair of faux leather trousers for a cowboy pants aesthetic, while cutting the sleeves and middle part of a long-sleeve crop top to attract attention to my chest region. The wig was an old favourite of mine that I created before. I quickly slapped it on with a white durag tied over and added voluminous curls to match those of Doja’s. The makeup was simple; vibrant blue eyeshadow with a pinky lip that felt abnormal with my skin tone (darker than Doja’s). I wanted to keep as consistent with the character as possible. 

I finished setting up my blue backdrop in the living room of my flat and prepared to take pictures for the rest of the night, a wave of insecurities suddenly took over my body. I tilted my head back in an angle so that my makeup wouldn’t get ruined as I cried. Negative thoughts began to submerge my head: Being creative doesn’t pay the bills, why can’t you aspire for a more ‘normal occupation’, this is too provocative, you already have it hard as a Black woman so why would you do something like this for people to judge you more?

After my partner helped me regain composure, I proceeded to take pictures and tell myself that everything in this moment was meant to be – all those fears and restrictions that previously stunted my creative expression were no longer here to haunt me. I reviewed the music video several times to get an idea of poses I could get into for the photos, while blasting Spotify’s B.B.E (bad bitch energy) playlist. 

When I edited and posted the pictures the following night on Twitter and Instagram, my phone had frozen from an abundance of notifications. The same exact set of photos I was terrified to publish, had now accumulated over 3,000 likes in a matter of hours. “You are perfect,” “stunning,” “so fierce” were amongst the plentiful comments I received. I was stunned at the outpouring of love.

“All those fears and restrictions that previously stunted my creative expression were no longer here to haunt me”

Cosplaying, the act of dressing up or portraying a fictional or a non-fictional character, is something I always had an interest in but felt like I was never able to achieve. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, US (a slowly gentrifying city still primarily consisting of Black/Latinx low-income households), I experienced financial struggle and couldn’t afford to do activities outside of school, even though I yearned to take up contemporary dancing and singing. Not to mention, I was already seen as an outcast for my outlandish taste in music (my favourite genre is indie rock/pop, but rap/R&B/hip-hop is favoured) and aesthetic that was completely opposite of the average Newark native. While my classmates were purchasing the latest Air Forces and Timberlands to match their flashy Hollister apparel, I instead wore whatever my mom could afford to buy me at the local Forman Mills (a highly discounted store).

It wasn’t until I recently moved to graduate school in the UK that I attempted cosplay for the first time.

I’ve mostly been inspired by animated characters who are eccentric and dominant, and IRL people who continue to normalise sex positivity while breaking barriers. Taking on a character allows me to portray traits I never thought I was capable of achieving, and slowly gain the confidence I need to embed into my actual life. Although this hobby was something I had previously feared being public about, I’m excited to properly dive into the community of cosplaying with other people of colour, of whom there are more than I had previously presumed.

Taking on a character allows me to portray traits I never thought I was capable of achieving, and slowly gain the confidence I need to embed into my actual life”

The level of commitment cosplaying requires has been an important lesson too. Starting the blueprint for a costume is one thing, but to actually execute and immerse yourself into the world of cosplaying (altering several clothes pieces, cutting and colouring wigs, studying the character’s mannerisms, learning different makeup techniques, etc.), takes a lot of dedication and guts. After the success of my first few months of cosplaying, I have realised that it’s worth putting the effort into something that not only makes me feel fulfilled creatively but could also become a stream of income if I continued to gain an audience.  

Getting into cosplay felt like a resurrection of myself because all forms of creativity were stripped from me until now. When I was growing up, I believed I wouldn’t go far in life unless I choose a career path with credibility and stability. Lawyer, doctor, scientist, were some of the few occupations that were permanently ingrained as aspirational. However, I knew deep down inside that I wanted to make time and space for a creative outlet.

Most of all, cosplaying has been the gateway to a level of confidence I never knew was within me. Taking my time to plan and execute each character I choose to portray has not only been worth it, but it’s allowed me to understand the value of patience and belief within myself. As I continue to explore cosplaying, I keep thinking back to that night that almost didn’t happen because of my insecurities. I’m glad it did.