Why I Cosplay: Seeing Myself and Them

Costumes were always a source of fun for me. I was one of the kids that looked forward to Hallowe’en more than Christmas… And now I’m one of those adults. As a kid, it was mostly the excitement of the candy run, but I also found enjoyment in becoming characters I loved. Whether it was being Dorothy to my older brother’s Tin Man, or Disney’s Belle at my pre-school’s party, costumes were always a source of reciprocal admiration in a social group. We inspired, appreciated, and even complimented each other’s efforts. Dress-up and make-believe were alive and well in my childhood, and cosplay became a natural extension of that.

My inspiration comes from fictional characters I’ve loved or real people I identify with on some level. I also generally aim for a base that looks similar to me to begin with – whether it is skin tone, hair colour and/or shape, or some other visible resemblance. This probably goes back to my childhood as well, never being allowed to be Ginger when playing Spice Girls, because I looked more like Scary. As much as I know I can cosplay anyone I want, there is something very gratifying about looking just like what you are imitating, and that can mean superficial things at times. It is an unfortunate fact that, if I were to cosplay Ginger Spice now, alone or as part of a larger Spice Girls group, it would be a frequent thought (or, worse, a verbal comment) as to why I’m not being the one I already kind of look like. I don’t like it, but I get it.

That being said, accuracy is the crucial element of the costume fun for me. Gathering various reference materials and brainstorming potential textile supplies (colours, fabric textures, etc.) is an enjoyable challenge. Everyone cosplays for different reasons, and we all have various opinions on what makes a good cosplay. We also have different levels of seriousness attached to our creations – from having fun, to gaining attention and a following (this IS a reputable career for some!), to utilizing skills and honing a craft. For me, the attention to details and striving for accuracy is my dedication to the character. I feel it is my tribute to the creator/artist/actor behind it. So much work goes into the pre-existing design that I am basing my cosplay of, and I want to honour that in my own way.

My most recent costume was Esméralda from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame – and it is my absolute favourite now. The process started in July, as does the majority of Hallowe’en costumes for me. I started watching clips from the movie to see how Esméralda’s skirt flowed, to try and gauge weight and fabric type. I went to Fabricland many times to see what was available (and on sale?). The pieces came together better than I ever hoped – the colours and fabrics were, I felt, screen-accurate, and I even bought “cartoony” green eye contacts. I WAS Esméralda that night… except for the Demi Moore voice, of course. A testament to the accuracy was having all kinds of people recognize me as the character. I cosplay for myself, but that is definitely a source of validation.

At this time, I must give credit where credit is due. My Mom and I are a costume team. I am essentially the designer, using as many references as possible to make decisions on the perfect shapes and textiles; she handles the majority of the actual manufacturing of each costume. I focus on the fine details, but she just plain knows how to make stuff.

A lot of people look at cosplaying as a form of escapism; running away from your mundane life. With each costume I create, I feel like I am undergoing a transformation of sorts. As a self-proclaimed “extroverted introvert”, I sometimes struggle with being in crowds and/or meeting new people. The costume is my armour. I feel strong, and capable, and confident. I am not escaping anything. In fact, I am becoming more self-aware and actively participating in my own identity-creation. As my tickle trunk of costumes grows, so does my selfdom.

Belle, Stephanie Austin

Stephanie Austin

Stephanie Austin

Book lover. Film buff. Storyteller. Self-proclaimed nerd that enjoys board/card/video/trivia games. Almost always the one behind the camera.