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Can't Talk | September 28, 2020

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More Than Dress Up

More Than Dress Up
Kirstin Carnage

Welcome back guest writer and Twitch extraordinaire Kirstin for a great piece on cosplay and aesthetics.

When it comes to fashion, I’m what you’d call a thrift store fanatic. I grew up really broke. Well, broke is kind of an understatement. Until high school, I grew up wearing hand-me-downs from my mom’s friends which would arrive in giant garbage bags with pitying looks. I was taught to look enthusiastic and grateful as I picked through oversized sweatshirts, faded jeans (before they were cool of course) and men’s T-shirts. If we ever had money for clothes it went to necessities like new shoes and coats.

Because of this, my style has always been kind of wonky. Most of the time I rock leggings and nerdy T-shirts, but I can’t really say for sure that I have a dedicated aesthetic. Sometimes I want to channel my inner high schooler and wear all black everything, and other times I want to wear flowy skirts and tiaras. I guess you could say that I’m a little inconsistent.

Additionally, I have never been comfortable in my own skin. My mother and sister are both tall and slender, but I took after the women on my father’s side of the family: I’m short and curvy. Needless to say, I grew up battling insecurity about my appearance.

But there is one time when I feel like a confident badass. A time when, instead of shying away from people with cameras, I will hold my head high and grin for photos. A time when I channel my inner kickass superhero. That, my friends, is when I’m cosplaying.

The first time I cosplayed was less than five years ago (if you exclude things like Halloween and costume parties). My best friend and I stayed up until 5 a.m. the night before our first Phoenix Comicon, painting Nerf guns and speculating on what PHXCC would be like. Neither of us had ever been to a big convention before; our energy was part excitement and part desperation to get our costumes just perfect.

The next morning, after a two-hour drive, we arrived as a group of post-apocalyptic cosplayers. I realized instantly how well we fit in with the crowd of costumed people. What happened that day can only be described as though I had an awakening. I felt like there had been a piece of me missing, and I had randomly stumbled upon it in the middle of a convention center. I didn’t even have that elaborate of a costume, because I was super new to costuming, but people stopped us and asked us for pictures. I got compliments on my gun. Historically, even as a child, I have hated having my picture taken, but I posed and tried to look more badass and less giddy every time someone stopped us. We had so much fun that we crashed at a local friend’s house and went again the next day. I took mental notes on costumes, already beginning to plan what I would attempt for the following year.

Me (center) as post-apocalyptic Peach with Yoshi and Mario.

Me (center) as post-apocalyptic Peach with Yoshi and Mario.

It was all over from there. I was lost to the world of costumes. When I got back from PHXCC that first year, I sat around in my costume the rest of the day, pouting. When I finally had to put normal clothes on to go to the store it felt foreign to me that nobody’s head turned when I walked past. Nobody had cameras, there were no other cosplayers. I felt like I’d finally found my home world, only to be sent back to an alien planet. I eased that lost feeling with paint, sketches, and plans for my next few costumes.

What solidified cosplay as something I really wanted to expand upon came years after my first costume. It was last year, when Twitch launched their creative channel, and celebrated by marathon streaming every episode of Bob Ross’s, “The Joy of Painting.” After watching a few episodes I got the creative bug, so I pulled out the metal rings I’d been saving for when I felt ready to learn chainmail. It was frustrating. My fingers hurt. I cried. But Bob Ross kept me going with his frequent encouragement, and hours later I held up a section of chainmail that I wove myself. I felt proud and invigorated. I felt like if I could teach myself how to weave quarter inch rings into actual mail, I could learn to do anything.

Cosplaying, to me, is so much more than just dressing up like a popular character. When I’m in character, nobody cares that I’m socially awkward or that I’m insecure about my weight. In costume I get to portray someone much more confident and strong than I am, and that confidence shows. Also, dressing up like different people speaks to the chameleon sort of attitude my BPD brings forth around large groups of people, and it helps me stabilize my identity. I don’t have to try to be a version of Kirstin that people might like; I get to be a superhero or video game character that people will recognize, and that’s even better. It centers me, and gives me the validation that I crave every time someone approaches and asks to get my picture, or compliments my handiwork.

I am nowhere near the levels of professional costume makers, but that doesn’t bother me. I have fun, and I feel like such a badass when I’m wearing something that I worked hard on. Plus, I am still learning all the time. One of the things I love about costuming is that no matter what I’ve taught myself or feel like I might have mastered, there is always a new challenge for me; something new to sit up for hours struggling with and cursing until that aha moment when I’ve finally figured something out. It’s rewarding, empowering, and gives me a creative outlet that doesn’t require being eloquent.

Finding the world of cosplay gave me a source of self-assurance I never expected. Sure, I don’t wear it day-to-day (which made me debate the validity of it as an aesthetic), but truth be told, conventions feel like home to me and costumes make me feel alive. They help me channel my strength and my confidence, and that is what defines an aesthetic to me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a million things to work on before PHXCC 2016.

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