“Just go out there and do it!” – An Interview with Cosplayer Briana Lawrence

Elements of Cosplay Style gown

Our third piece in our summer cosplay series is an interview with cosplayer Briana Lawrence. Briana has cosplayed Princess Peach, Tiana from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, Wonder Woman, and many more. She has been a continuous inspiration to the cosplay community since she shot to cosplay fame with her xoJane article: “I’m a plus-size cosplayer.” WWAC contributor, Emily Willis, sat down to chat with Briana about her favorite cosplays, her words of wisdom to aspiring cosplayers, and more.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Briana Lawrence, Wonder Woman cosplay, photographed by Ilessthan3photography
Briana in her Wonder Woman cosplay, photographed by Ilessthan3photography.

Sure! I’m a freelance writer, artist, and cosplayer. I have three books published, one of which is an ongoing series with my partner, Jessica Walsh (SnowCosplays). I’ve also had my work featured in a few anthologies via Dreamspinner Press. Currently, I’m writing scripts for WatchMojo.com, but I’ve written for quite a few sites about different anime, manga, and just all around geekiness. I also play convention manager for my partner, so we can go to different shows and promote and sell our work, which ranges from crafts, plushies, geeky dresses, and books.

You really seemed to shoot to online fame overnight! How did that happen?

Briana Lawrence, Princess Tiana cosplay, photographed by Elyse Shuldhiess
Briana as Tiana in Belle and Tiana cosplay, photographed by Elyse Shuldhiess.

It’s been really surprisingly and unexpected, but I guess it all started back in 2013, when someone bullied me online about my Princess Peach cosplay. They decided to make some horrible comments like “Princess Whale” and “Go and fry some chicken,” things like that. I responded by, well, frying some chicken and posting pictures online. I also wrote about cosplay bullying for xoJane and everything exploded after that. I still remember waking up when the article was published and a friend telling me that it was all over the Internet. I didn’t quite realize what she meant when she said “all over the Internet,” because sometimes friends exaggerate, but she had been right! Everyone was sharing my article and it was insane! I’ve always had the attitude that cosplay is for everyone, and shaming anyone for any reason is wrong, but this was the first time I was so vocal about it, and it’s really impacted my life.

Have you heard the recent discussions about cosplay not being real fandom? What are your thoughts on that?

I’m not sure how anyone could say such a thing. I think cosplay is definitely part of the fan experience, just like fanfiction, fanart, and going to conventions; it’s just another element of being a fan of something. Cosplayers put their time and effort into creating costumes of their favorite characters; I’m not sure what part of that isn’t being a “real” fan. As a writer, I hope for my work to be so popular someday that people want to represent my characters through cosplay; that would be a huge honor. I want my work to have that kind of fan appreciation and love behind it.

What are your favorite cosplays?

Briana Lawrence, Wonder Woman cosplay, photograph by Dave Yang Photography
Briana in her Wonder Woman cosplay at the Colossalcon Fashion Show, photographed by by Dave Yang Photography.

I’m glad you used it in the plural sense, because there’s definitely more than one. There’s Princess Peach, for starters, because I feel like she started it all. I’ve been cosplaying since 2004, but that Princess Peach dress started this whole being more vocal about body positivity thing. I also love Princess Tiana. I knew as soon as I saw that green dress on Disney’s first black princess that I had to cosplay her. Recently, I did Dr. Facilier and kind of stepped out of my comfort zone by wearing fishnet and showing more leg than I’m used to, but in the end I felt pretty sexy and badass. I especially love doing Wonder Woman. She makes me feel so powerful, like I can take on the entire world. It’s also fun wearing the Mario dress and really fun doing Freddy Fazbear just to see people’s reactions. The list of favorites is always growing, I’m sure the next cosplay I do will be a favorite; that’s what tends to happen.

What cosplay do you plan on doing in the future?

There are so many plans! Now that we [my partner and I] have gotten into doing these geeky dresses, we’ve both sketched dress designs that I really want to wear. Sailor Moon, Harley Quinn, Captain America … the list goes on. I also really want to do Princess Peach’s tanooki suit and a new Princess Tiana dress.

What is your dream cosplay?

There’s three on my list that I really want to do: Rita Repulsa from Power Rangers, Maleficent, and Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena. I’ve been wanting to do these three for a long time, but I always feel like I get distracted by another idea, especially since Snow’s skills keep improving (she’s the one who makes our cosplay).

Why is cosplay so important to you?

Briana Lawrence, Mario Cosplay, photographed by  Nude Carbon Studies and X-Geek
Briana cosplaying Mario, photographed by Nude Carbon Studios and X-Geek.

I think it’s a great way to express yourself and to go out there and be who you are. Growing up, I was definitely “the weird kid,” because I was into anime and video games. I didn’t discover conventions and cosplay until I was eighteen, but when I did I really felt at home, like I had found my people. Even with my initial fears—and, sometimes, those fears return—at its core this community is full of welcoming, amazing people. I’ve made so many great connections through cosplay, some of whom I know will be lifelong friends.

I also think that cosplay has boosted my confidence. It’s not like I lacked confidence, but I sure as hell have gained a lot of it with each new cosplay I do. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and have felt beautiful, powerful, and amazing with these characters. I feel like they’re enhancing what was already within me. I speak my mind more often now. I admit when things bother me, and I am more open about my feelings. I talk to people more and try my best to inspire them and to be someone they can turn to. These are all things I was already doing, for the most part, but I do it even more now. I’m promoting this message of body positivity with my cosplay and can only go further from here.

What words of wisdom can you give to an aspiring cosplayer?

Just go out there and do it (insert that Shia LaBeouf motivational video here, ha ha)! Seriously, if you want to cosplay, do it. I know some people worry about what others will think of their cosplay, and I understand that feeling, especially after getting my share of negative comments. Don’t let those comments get you down. I know it’s hard, because it’s really easy to focus on the negative, on the “what if someone makes fun of me.” And, honestly, I do it too. I have that doubtful voice in my head. But then I remember all the fun I have and how amazing I feel when I’m walking around as these characters. That’s what you should focus on, and that’s what you should think about. Instead of wondering, “Will someone make fun of me,” think about all the fun you’ll have. Think in positive what if scenarios. What if everyone loves your cosplay? What if you meet some amazing people? Don’t let the negative, or the potential of something negative, stop you. Cosplay is something you do for yourself; it’s something you do because you want to have fun, because you like to be creative, and you love a certain character or series. Keep those things in mind.

What do you do when you’re not cosplaying?

Briana Lawrence, Dr. Facilier , photographed by Briana and her partner.
Briana in her Disney villian, Dr. Facilier cosplay, photographed by Briana and her partner.

I pretty much do what I’ve said above about looking for conventions to go to and writing. Outside of work, I’m usually watching anime, playing video games, or watching a crazy amount of YouTube videos thanks to the likes of Markiplier, Game Grumps, Team Four Star, Little Kuriboh, the Nostalgia Critic … the list goes on. Occasionally, my partner and I will have a date night, or a writing date, or go to the fabric store where I poke at things in an attempt to get new cosplay out of her.

Finally, where can people find your work or connect with you?

I try and keep my Facebook cosplay page pretty up to date. Also, my partner and seamstress and coauthor can be found on Facebook. We have a website that shows our work. And an Etsy shop too where you can get books and other fun things. There’s also Tumblr, but beware of random fandom things and ramblings. I also have Twitter, which I’m trying to get in the habit of using more.

Emily Willis

Emily Willis

Emily Willis is the writer of Grave Impressions, If The Shoe Fits, and Cassius. She’s been traveling the USA for three years with her fiancée, Ann, attending numerous comic and anime conventions and selling their work. You can find her work at http://www.arbitrarymuse.com or talk to her on twitter at @gicomic