When I decided to attend my first DragonCon, I knew I was going to do Dark Phoenix. At the time, I was going for a traditional look, and I did the best I could do as a fat woman. Back then, you couldn’t hop on line and buy custom bodysuits, and even now, there are some serious limitations on thigh-high boots in my size. I ended up making some pseudo boot tops from duct tape and gold fabric. And my “suit” was a burgundy, velour tracksuit onto which I glued a glitter phoenix. I’m fairly positive that the head of my phoenix was turned the wrong way and I left a trail of glitter everywhere I went. Not to mention my $5 wig that was kinda the wrong color. But screw it; it was the best I could do at the time and I let go.
I think back to that time and realize that while it did occur to me that my costume was bad, I really wanted to go to DragonCon in costume. I REALLY wanted to go to DragonCon dressed as Dark Phoenix. She was a character who spoke to my heart, so I sucked it up, cobbled it together, and went to DCon. While there, we ran into Yaya Han dressed at Lady Deathstrike. She wanted a picture together, which I initially refused because my costume looked so budget compared to hers. She convinced me to take the picture anyway. I let my fear and anxiety of not looking good enough and not having a good enough costume go. To this day, that is one of my cosplay stand-out moments – it wasn’t a competition. We were just two fans dressed as characters in the same universe taking a picture.
Because I’m petty, I feel the need to point out that it’s easy to be kind when you know you look awesome (which she did), but it was nice to be on the receiving end of that kindness, especially in my bad wig and glitter phoenix, velour track suit. But you know what? I am letting that pettiness go. Mostly. It’s a work in progress.
Letting go is a continual process – another thing I’ve had to come to terms with repeatedly in my life. Most of the time I want to hold on to things until they are perfect, but I have such a strong desire to participate in stuff that my need to participate overrides my desire for perfection. And honestly, that works in my favor. I want to be a part of the madness and in order to do that, I can’t get stuck on making things perfect. I need them to be functional and close enough to the target that I can see where I was going.
This has been an interesting experience for me in cosplay because the target is often assumed to be to look as close to the character as possible. That hasn’t always been my goal. The first time I did Typhoid Mary, I did my own interpretation of it. The only things even remotely like the character were the red wig, the face painted half white, and the fishnets with ankle boots – in retrospect, that’s a lot. But my top was nothing like anything in the comics, nor was the hair style. But I wore it and I loved it.
It was the same with my second interpretation of Dark Phoenix. I remember thinking that I wanted to look like that moment she released her rage – when the light of her energy eclipsed her, and she became a shadow in the glow of her power. So I had the costume made in black and gold (no more velour track suits and glitter), and I painted my face black, with gold eyes. These days, there are a couple of things I’d do differently, but ultimately, I loved my take on it. I hit my mark. Plenty of people were confused about my interpretation, but that’s ok. I hit my target.
In those two instances I let go of what I thought other people would want to see and I did my own thing. And that’s the cool thing about cosplay – you can mix it up however you want. For a long time, I felt like I could only cosplay women or non-white characters. And while those are the ones I gravitate towards, I cosplay whoever I want – man, woman, Black, white, human, alien, god…whatever I feel like. Truth be told, I WANTED to do Black characters, but at the time I had some trouble finding them. That’s not the case now – fortunately. That said, I’ve been pretty focused on Marvel characters, but who knows what the future will bring.
The longer I do this, the more I feel like the quality of my costumes should improve. You know, get closer to perfect. This is an expectation I need to ignore. I admire the people with the dedication and fortitude to be perfect. I really do. There are times when I wish I had the perfect costume, where every seam is straight, every edge is creased, the lines are crisp, the paint job is immaculate, and I manage to incorporate every tiny detail. I mean, who doesn’t want to be flawless? But I had to accept several years ago that I’m just not willing to sacrifice the potential fun of the creation and convention experience in order to attain perfection. It just doesn’t sound like a good time and the few times when I tried to be perfect were so frustrating and stressful that I felt my joy wither away. Just thinking about it makes me cringe. If everything I did had to be perfect, I’d never leave the house. And with that, I continue the process of letting go and make do with “good enough.”
Letting go is more than just saying, “good enough” and putting it out in the world. It’s also about listening to yourself. I have found that when I’m concerned about something being perfect, what I’m really worried about is what other people will think or say about it. I am looking for external validation of my efforts and when that happens, it means that I am not doing what I want anymore.
That’s the big fear with cosplay – at least for me. The fear that I will compromise myself for attention, when really, that needs to be my lowest priority. I didn’t decide to put on a costume because I wanted people to like at me. I mean, it’s nice and all, but the real drive was that I wanted to cobble together a costume and wear it.
I am someone who came into cosplay when putting on a costume was good enough for a crapton of attention. I feel the loss as the scene gets more mainstream, and the interest is in the young, white, societally acceptable bodies. The only thing in my favor was my youth, and I’m doing nothing but getting older. I’m not marketable and there is less and less interest in people like me every year. So it’s been an interesting journey figuring out how I fit into this scene…figuring out IF I fit into this scene. I asked myself over and over again what I wanted, what I needed, and I built this anxiety about how I could do what I wanted but still be relevant.
Until, finally, I let go.
It doesn’t matter if I fit. I’ll make my own space. It doesn’t matter if people like it. If they do, great. If not, then it wasn’t meant for them. It doesn’t matter if I’m old, fat, and Black. I belong here for as long as I want to be here.
If there was a piece of advice I could give my younger self…who am I kidding? My younger self got me here and I love who I am now. So if there’s a piece of advice I can give to anyone reading my blog, learn to let go. It’s usually not as necessary to hold on to it as you think.
And, as mistakes are how we humans learn, you need to let go enough to learn new shit. I have a number of things on my list that I know I’ve messed up but next time…next time I’ll make it better.