How Cosplay Helped My Body Image

[TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorders and related thinking and behaviors.]

If you had asked me three years ago to put on a skintight leotard and a pair of tights and then go to an event with thousands of other people, I’m not sure if I’d have laughed at you or thought you were playing some sort of cruel joke on me. I sure as hell wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that three years down the road it would be one of my favorite ways to spend my time.

You see, three years ago I was caught in the bony, painful grip of anorexia, and the thought of leaving the house in anything that body-conscious was nightmare-inducing. I hid myself in thick sweaters and baggy jeans most of the time. I had shrunk into my jeans over a period of time, and their looseness was comforting. I wore the sweaters even in the blistering heat of Texas summers because I was chronically hypothermic. Every so often I would wear something figure-skimming or even tight, but I felt grotesque the whole time. The idea of spandex or lycra sticking to my thighs and constricting my abdomen made me sure that everyone would be staring down my figure, mentally circling every imperfection. That was then (then being only a year or so ago), but now I feel right at home dressing up like a character drawn by sexist, boob-loving comics dudes.

For the past few years I’ve been cosplaying as the 10th Doctor from Doctor Who, boobs and all. This year, I found out that it’s a lot harder with longer hair and a now-well-developed bosom, and so for my next cosplay I planned something a little more womanly. Don’t get me wrong – a femme Doctor is perfectly badass – but I knew it was time for a change of pace. My body has been changing into a healthier, stronger form for the past year or so, and I’m finally learning to embrace my curves rather than be ashamed of them.

At the last big Con I attended, I took notice of some of the women (and men!) happily walking about in their skintight, revealing costumes. Big bodies, little bodies, curves and angles, muscles, cellulite. I saw all of it in various combinations, but it wasn’t what I cared about. I didn’t give two cares about whether Harley Quinn had dimples on her thighs or Thor was a little short. I began to wonder whether all of those perceptions of judgement that I carried with me when I was sick were specific only to me and assorted internet trolls. Was it my anorexic self, partially created by a media that tells us that stick-thin is the only way to be, that created all of this judgement? I can give the disease at least a slice of the blame because we know that when all a person can think about is weight and food, the comparisons and the judgements come in droves.

The Scarlet Witch, with red tights, leotard, headpiece, and cape
The Scarlet Witch herself.

I suppose I could have gone with a more modest female character, but I guess I just don’t do things halfway. I donned a red sleeveless leotard that, if not for the pink tights I was wearing underneath, would have allowed my gynecologist to perform a full exam without so much as touching me. I topped it off with red boots, a flowing cape, and an indecent amount of red lipstick. I was the Scarlet Witch, a Marvel mutant with whom I feel a certain kinship with due to the fact that we are both on the mentally ill side of the normality spectrum. Now, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t thankful for the backside coverage the cape allowed me; without it approximately two-thirds of my rear would have been exposed to everyone. But as the night wore on, I know I could have comfortably removed the cape and still loved myself and my ass.

Seeing so many people who couldn’t care less about someone else’s judgement of their body delight in walking around dressed as their favorite characters did more for my body image than years of therapy. They were happy, smiling and posing for pictures and walking around in less than what I normally wear in the middle of summer. I admired it. I envied it. And now I get to do it myself, hoping that maybe I can inspire someone else to go out and put on that spandex suit or midriff-baring costume. I’m finally learning to love not just what my body does, but how it looks. I’m learning to be comfortable in it. I can put on that costume and feel like a hero, something important and amazing and invincible. And even when I’m wearing the jeans and sweater that now fit perfectly and feeling like maybe if they were just a bit looser I would be a better person, I can remember how I felt in that red bodysuit. I can remember and I can stay determined to love my body and myself and know that I look wonderful because I feel wonderful. Superheroes may not be real, but I know I speak not just for myself when I say that they can still rescue us.

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Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

3 thoughts on “How Cosplay Helped My Body Image”

  1. This is so awesome to me as a fellow cosplayer. It’s amazing because the cosplay community is notoriously one of the cattiest and meanest in the deep trenches of the internet, but when you go to a con and see everyone in person and so many people just not giving any fucks, I really really love it.

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