If you have been reading my posts over the past couple of weeks, you will know that I have been doing cosplay make up for several One Piece characters and have been posting images of myself doing this to social media. I would like to discuss this experience today and attempt to expand upon it by talking about some thoughts I have had along the process. But before I do, I would like to talk a little bit about why I did this.
Originally this was for a university assignment but truthfully I wanted to get into cosplay long before I ever attended my first Digital Asia class. I had watched the anime, read the manga, collected the figurines but I had never tried to be the characters before.This assignment was just an excuse to finally do it. Being the nerd I am, I have attended quite a few conventions in my time and my favorite part is always the cosplay. I would see everyone in these amazing costumes and think to myself ‘next year I’m so dressing up’ but then every time I would chicken out. I was always scared I would look stupid or that people would laugh at me at the train station. But then when I got to the conventions I would feel this sense of longing and regret; like I was a part of the culture but I was standing on the peripheral looking in. This has made this assignment an interesting experience for me because I finally faced my fears and fulfilled my desire at the risk of looking silly. On top of this I received many words of encouragement and made heaps of friends on The One Piece Forum, which really made me feel like I was no longer on the outskirts of the anime community.
Although this was a positive experience with no laughing, teasing or bullying, I still had that prevailing thought that people were going to think I was strange for doing this. I began to think about why I felt this way. I mean it was only make up. Why did I feel self conscious about using it in a way that was slightly different?
This brought me to the question what does make up usually mean to me? Makeup to me is about beauty and vanity. The cosplay was done with my own makeup not face paint; the makeup I use every day to conform to my own personal and societies overall standards of beauty. Using make up in such an unconventional way that was aesthetically unattractive was an alien concept to me. I believe this is what made the task so difficult as it was requiring me to break away from ideologues that have been ingrained in me since childhood.
On top of this all the photos I took were selfies and in my past experience the selfie is something you use to represent who you are. I use selfies on social media as a way of presenting myself in the way I want to be seen. So posting the cosplay images onto Instagram was daunting because although I consider anime to be part of my identity, this was the first time I was really presenting it to the world in a way that said this is undoubtedly who I am.
What was also interesting is that I only dressed up as male characters. I did this because these are the characters I like the best. In One Piece there is a tendency for the female characters to be damsels in distress and that was not who I wanted to be. What was interesting about this is that cosplay is more than just trying to look like the characters it is a combination of the words costume and play; meaning a sense of performance takes place where you play the characters. This is exactly what I did, running around the house pretending to be them, talking to myself in the mirror and mimicking their personalities. Considering they were male characters this was an experience I imagine being similar to drag. The fact that I enjoyed doing this really forced me to confront my preconceptions of femininity and perhaps that’s what caused my self-consciousness.
But the exciting thing is, that this is what cosplay does. You are escaping you’re own reality even if it is for just a brief moment and you become closer to the person you’ve always dreamed of being. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what gender you are, if you’re tall or short, fat or skinny because it is not about being the characters; it is about playing the characters as yourself, It’s like playing a video game where you make the character you want to play as but at the same time you are ultimately still the one playing.
There is something so liberating about saying screw reality, today I’m being who I want to be and it is always fun to imagine yourself on some amazing adventure that could only ever exist within an animated realm. This is the same reason why people read books, watch movies or play video games; cosplay is just an advanced stage of this hyper-imaginative fantasy that we use to escape the mundane. If you can find people along the way who understand this idea, accept it and even preform it themselves then you will ultimately develop a connection, despite distance, despite language, despite which anime you love or which character you are playing, whether you watch dubbed or subbed. Passionate fandom transcends national boundaries and it transcends the barriers of cultural conventions, social stigmas and gender norms. It is for this reason why I am no longer embarrassed to post my cosplay pictures onto social media. I have come to terms with the idea that there is nothing strange in doing something you love and I think it is safe to say I have found my self in the face of someone else.