By Loryn Stone
Cosplaying- It’s another one of my hobbies that I’m often asked about. Everything from pattern cutting, to sewing, props, and materials; I’ve heard every question under the sun. And the fact of the matter is…
I’m the absolute worst person to ask!
I’m a habitual gluer. I can hardly cut a straight line. My sewing skills are limited to buttons and hand stitching, and I’ve been known to use puffy paint where a more skilled craftsperson could have sewn ribbons. But you know what? I love it anyway. I love cosplayers. I love conventions. And I have a damn good time playing along in the community.
I wanted to give my readers an interesting piece about cosplaying, but I knew I couldn’t do it myself. What’s the validity in one, singular experience? Exactly- none. So, I reached out to six amazing cosplayers in the community and one photographer: People of varying ages, locations, experience, and backgrounds whose work I greatly love and respect. And wouldn’t you know- they were kind enough to provide me with answers to my burning questions.
Let’s hit it. With us today, I have:
Orlando from Orange Juice Cosplay, and creator of the Facebook group Fluffy Sailor Moon Cosplayers
Crystal Rose from Crystal Rose Creations
Dorasae from Akakioga Cosplay
Jade from J’Adore Cosplay
Olivia from Zazie Cosplay
Breana, my friend and cosplay partner
Gil Riego Jr., Los Angeles based cosplay photographer and creator of the Facebook group LA Cosplay Photo Shoot Out
All social media links will be provided at the bottom of the article, and photographers have been appropriately credited on the cosplayer’s public page.
Thank you all so much for being here with me today! Interviews are such a treat, and I appreciate everyone’s participation.
First off, how old are you and what was your first cosplay?
Orange Juice: 29. My first ever cosplay was a gender-bend Sailor Moon that I made in about a week. I just had a blast; it was a great feeling to finally find a place where being a geek was celebrated. From then on, I was hooked.
Crystal Rose: 23. Mine was a steampunk Ariel, from The Little Mermaid. It was very basic, but then again it was my first-time cosplaying, and cosplay is a trial-and-error process. After wearing the costume for the first time it feels like you’re a superhero… like you actually are that character and it gives you such power and it boosts your self-confidence that it becomes a drug and you want more of it.
Breana: 31. My first cosplay was Usagi from Sailor Moon in her school uniform. I did it when I was 30 years old. My daughter, when she was 2, cosplayed with me as Sailor Jupiter. It was always a dream of mine to cosplay with my daughter.
Akakioga: 23. My first legit cosplay was Deep Dive Riku from Kingdom Hearts 2. I debuted it at Anime Expo 2014. I didn’t make the cosplay, but I did make the prop. I made quite a few friends after the fact and they really motivated me to join them as a group and keep going. I was already a huge anime and video game fan back then, so it didn’t take much for me to stay interested!
Zazie: 24. My very first cosplay was Nidalee from League of Legends; I did her default skin. I remember cutting out all of the fabric and there was fur everywhere. I didn’t have a sewing machine at the time so it was 90% hot glue and 10% 3hr of hand sewing. I was working on the cosplay alongside best friend, who was doing Princess Perona from One Piece. And just working together with friends and seeing all of your work come to life once you put it on is just awesome!
J’Adore: I just turned 22! My first “official” cosplay that I made by myself was Tetra from Zelda: The Wind Waker about 5 years ago, but technically my first ever cosplay was this godawful Dark Toon Link from 2011 that I slapped together with a black dress, my mom’s too-big boots, and a cut up pillowcase. I wish I still had the picture of that because it was truly a piece of work.
Seeing all of these people online transform into spitting images of my favorite characters, 15-year-old me declared “I WANNA BE THAT COOL, DANG IT” so I kept up with cosplaying! And joining groups and forums full of knowledgeable, welcoming people really helped with that.
Gil: I’m 34. My first cosplay photography gig was Anime Expo 2015 — when I used to freelance for SF Weekly, and saw how bad some of the press photos were on a lot of sites, so I decided to give a crack at it and try to do something that was respectful of the work the cosplayers put into it. Also, free passes helped my decision.
Is cosplay a hobby or a lifestyle at this point?
Orange Juice: I honestly would say it’s a little of both, though I don’t cosplay every weekend. The lessons I have learned along the way I take with me everywhere I go. I have become a much more tolerant and loving person since I joined the community and I just try to spread that mentality to as many people as I can.
J’Adore: It’s definitely a hobby for me right now. If at some point in time that turned into something I could make a living off of, I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to that either! Though I’m a little too introverted for the lifestyle that the models and cos-famous lead!
Zazie: Cosplay started as a hobby and just became a part of me now. I now go to at least 5-6 conventions a year. This is why I’m broke.
Crystal Rose: It’s actually a bit of both to be honest. But it will always be a hobby, and nothing more. I don’t intend to make this a career because in reality it’s truly not possible.
Akakioga: Can it be a lifestyle hobby? I want to keep cosplay as a hobby because I do it for fun and never want it to become something I’m obligated to do. But cosplay has become very much integrated into my life and I don’t regret it!
Breana: I don’t have the money to make it a lifestyle!
Gil: It’s a little bit of both. Sometimes I pick up paid cosplay photo gigs, sometimes I just need to do some creative vomit that will want me to shoot for free. I also work with budgets and sometimes a cosplayer who’s starting out new just needs some help to get a footing, and needs a couple of shots to show off.
How have your physical traits contributed the way you cosplay?
Crystal Rose: I’m a plus-size cosplayer. There for a lot of the characters that cosplay is the opposite. And that is not a problem at all. Cosplay is for every one of any size, gender, race, Etc. Sometimes I will feel discouraged that I don’t exactly look like the character that I am portraying but I never let that stop me from doing what I love!
Orange Juice: Honestly It makes no difference to me. I am a Plus Size male cosplayer and it doesn’t really stop me from cosplaying anyone I wish. If I limited myself to characters I felt matched my physical features, I would be closing a lot of doors of opportunity on myself and miss out on having fun. The whole reason I started Fluffy Sailor Moon Cosplayers was because I noticed that men would go ignored in body positive cosplay groups that I was in. It really bothered me, because I felt we deserved as much positivity as any gender identity. So, I set out to create a place full of diversity and love where everyone is celebrated no matter who they are and I make it a point for no one to go ignored. I want everyone to feel the love, and I think that FSMC really achieves that goal.
Zazie: When I started cosplaying I had really, really bad low self-esteem because of my tan skin tone. For a while, I mainly cosplayed black female characters. I was afraid of getting rude comments like “Your cosplay would look better if you were white/Asian”. I just didn’t want to deal with any of it at the time. Eventually because of cosplay, I started to come out of my shell more and being my confident with myself. I started to realize that I shouldn’t care what people think and cosplay what I want to cosplay. Everyone should cosplay whoever and however they want.
Breana: My physical traits mean nothing. You can change them with a wig and contacts.
Akakioga: I like to go for it and work with what I have. I think it’s fun getting to use my natural hair for some characters if I can, like my Orisa and Static Shock cosplays. Fun fact, I’m only 5’2, so getting to wear really tall heels is super fun!
J’Adore: It’s a happy coincidence when I cosplay a character that looks like me. Especially when it’s spot on. But ultimately, I just do characters I connect with!
Let’s gossip a little. What cosplays are you personally sick of seeing and why? On other hand, what are your favorite kinds of cosplay to see?
Gil: Unless you’re an acrobat or have fantastic talent to pull it off, I’m kind of done seeing masked cosplays, such as Power Rangers and Spider Man. That said, I love intricate cosplays, ones that have great makeup or detail in the stitching, or break the “Five Foot Rule”.
Breana: Definitely tired of seeing Spider Man, too. It’s just a onesie with a hood.
Crystal Rose: To be fully honest, I’m very tired of seeing a lot of characters being sexualized by both men and women of the community. This goes for any character that is not meant to be sexualized such as Chuckie from Rugrats or Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls. However, costumes that I do love to see our mashups. Mashups are so creative and fun and I love to see what people do!
Zazie: Nothing really when it comes to cosplay per say. I really hate a cheap wig. New amateur cosplayers usually go the cheap route when it comes to wigs. I just feel so bad because, there’s not enough wefts on it so your wig is see-through, they get so tangled and frizzy. This is another one, that can happen to good or bad quality wigs, when the wig is slowly falling off your head. You can see their wig cap showing. Its sucks I’ve had that happen mainly heavier wigs. I have actually gone out of my way to tell fellow that their wig cap is showing.
Can you elaborate on the need for the body positivity push in cosplay? How bad is shaming and bullying in the community from your experience?
Orange Juice: This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart and something I actually spend a lot of time advocating for. I think it’s important because all people from all walks of life should love themselves no matter what the circumstances of their body everyone can benefit from that love. There is this misconception that happens in the community sometimes that body positivity is a way to elevate one person or persons while putting others down. Which is completely false all bodies deserve to be celebrated and loved no matter who they are.
Crystal Rose: There is a huge problem in the community when it comes to body shaming. A lot of people think that Cosplayers need to be 100% accurate in both looks of the character as well as the costume and this is 100% false. Cosplay is for everyone and a lot of people don’t realize that because a lot of the popular cosplayers are not active in the community when it comes to positivity. They don’t do panels and they don’t speak out on issues in the community because they don’t want a little drama or confrontation therefore deteriorating their popularity. They don’t help the community in any way. The only help themselves and this is a big issue that needs to be fixed because they are the voice of this community. They have the huge followings and they have the power to change things but they don’t because some are selfish. Most of the body shaming I see in the cosplay humidity is about 90% online. Which of course it would be considering people are cowards and would never say it to your face because they know you would probably punch them LOL most of the body shaming is towards plus size cosplayers like myself. I myself have been body shamed but only online and it’s very hurtful but it never keeps me from Cosplaying because for every one hater I have…. I have over 10 people loving me. And that’s what matters are those 10 people and not that one hater.
Akakioga: I am 100% for body positivity in the cosplay community. Some people forget that not everyone is stick thin like the anime characters we watch online and on TV. But at the same time, skinny-shaming is also terrible and shouldn’t happen. I have friends who have been on the fat-shaming and skinny-shaming side of the cosplay spectrum and it really hurts them. Cosplay is supposed to be for fun and yet people can’t see past someone’s size because it’s ‘not their waifu’.
J’Adore: Some people absolutely lose their minds whenever a cosplayer has the AUDACITY to be a character who doesn’t look/act/sound/breathe exactly like the character they’re portraying. They feel this dying need to confront the cosplayer (usually online) and ‘enlighten’ them on every single thing wrong with them. “You’re too fat to cosplay this, you’re not the right skin color, your boobs are too small, you ruined my waifu” and that’s just unacceptable. People need to realize that cosplayers are not the character they’re dressed as, they’re living, breathing people with feelings and insecurities just like you are. I don’t need to hold up some lookalike cosplay illusion when I’m getting smashed in the bar next to InuYasha, okay? I mean, I don’t think I deserve some sort of special reward just for being a POC and cosplaying, but that doesn’t mean I deserve to be treated like trash, either.
(I’m definitely going to have to get more information about this waifu world we live in.)
Do you think photographers actually take issue with plus sized or gender bending cross-players, or is it just the quality of the costume, confidence of the player, etc.? Can you share some experiences you’ve seen to support your point in either direction?
Gil: I suppose there are a couple types of cosplay photographers. Those who do it to hang with friends and shoot only people they know, and those who do it because they like cosplay photography and will shoot anyone. I don’t think that photographers would have issues with gender bending, plus size, quality or any other trait as long as the photographer was in the mood to shoot such a thing. I’ve seen amazing gender bends and plus size cosplayers that I didn’t want to shoot because I was in a “hang out with friends” kick, and I’ve chased down some sub-par designs to work with because I was a big fan of the specific fandom they were portraying.
Akakioga: From my own experience, my gender-bent Static Shock has actually been pretty popular with photogs, but I think the one thing I do notice some photogs take issue in is race. I have been overlooked quite a bit in the past because I am not white or Asian, let alone not well known in the cosplay community. Black cosplayers are very underrepresented in our community, so much so that when I look through a photog’s portfolio and see that they haven’t worked with one black person, I tend to shy away from them; simply because I don’t know if they would do a good job or even want to work with me. My costumes have been good quality and I have great confidence when I cosplay, but watching a photog turn their nose up at me and walk past to go take a picture of a person who’s white and wearing the same costume is pretty disheartening. Again, it’s their choice to take pictures of whomever they want, we as minority cosplayers just want to not feel so ignored because we really do exist and slay in this community!
Orange Juice: Oh, absolutely. There are photographers that wouldn’t even shoot me because I happened to be wearing was a crossplay. What I do before booking a shoot now is take a look at the photographer’s body of work. If I notice they tend to shoot the same type of people, I avoid them. I’m not going to push them to shoot me if they have a preference for someone else. I tend to gravitate toward a photographer whose body of work represents diversity.
Crystal Rose: As I said before alot of photographers like to play favorites. They only like to shoot Cosplayers who look exactly like the character 100%. A lot of plus size cosplayers don’t get their picture taken by photographers for this reason and other reasons and it’s honestly very sad.
What are some misconceptions out there about cosplay?
J’Adore: That it’s all one big fantasy land, like we don’t want to face reality, or a sexual fetish. We’re aware of the lines between fantasy and reality- we just like to dress up on the weekends! Likewise, if someone’s donning a sexy cosplay, they’re likely doing it because they’re confident in themselves or they wanna step outside their comfort zone.
Zazie: I think some people may say it’s weird or filled with a bunch of hot chicks run around in sexy costumes. I’d say it’s a beautiful show of craftsmanship, love, and hard work. None of it easy, but it sure is fun! Even if you’re just purchasing your costume online you’re still showing your love as fan of that series.
Crystal Rose: A lot of people believe that cosplayers are very immature people who don’t have a grip on reality which is totally false. Everybody cosplays for a reason and mostly those reasons are psychological. Cosplay as a way to escape depression and anxiety and other disorders. Cosplay is like a medicine and helps those who suffer from depression and anxiety by boosting their self-confidence when wearing a costume. It also encourages them to be more social
Breana: Cosplayers all have the “look at me’s”- I mean some do sure, but for me if I share a photo on social media it’s because I enjoyed cosplaying and I want to share that with others. Although I wonder if all younger cosplayers have Patreon accounts…
Orange Juice: I think there is this misconception that you have to be of a certain skill level in order to enter the community. But like any skill you have to start somewhere if you aren’t happy with something you created or bought then learn from your past and improve yourself for the future. Don’t compare yourself to others I learned this the hard way just keep trying and keep growing and you’ll be surprised just how far you can go.
What would you say to people who are curious about doing it themselves, or getting into cosplay photography?
Gil: There’s no plunge to take when getting into cosplay or cosplay photography. Feel it out. If you’re already into photography, you have the equipment to do cosplay photography. If you want to try cosplay, just go to a convention. Look at how people are being. Beyond that it’s just your own personal idiosyncrasies that would stop you, such as social anxiety. Just have fun with it either way, and you’ll find where you fit in. The only plunge you take is when you want to go deeper into it by investing more money for lights, lenses, fabric and foam.
Akakioga: My message goes out to other POC/minority cosplayers like myself: Just DO IT! Cosplaying is one of the most liberating hobbies I have ever been a part of and to be honest, one of the most rewarding. I have had people come up to me, telling me that they would have never even considered started cosplaying if it weren’t for seeing someone who looked like them doing it and having fun. Representation matters in this hobby, it’s so important! It’s one of the things I stand up for the most in this community. Cosplay whoever you want and don’t let skin tone dictate who you can or can’t cosplay.
Orange Juice: Just do it!!! I know it can seem terrifying just as anything new is but you will be surprised just how awesome it can be. Surround yourself with good people and there will be no stopping the amount of fun you can have and if you encounter hate of any kind remind yourself that those people who carry hate like that are only a minority within the community for every one person wanting to spread hate there are a hundred like me who will spread love and positivity.
Breana: Just do it. It’s really fun. It took me until I was 30 to try it out, and I wish I had done it sooner.
Zazie: Just do it! If you’re already considering doing it ask your friends to join you too! Don’t care what internet has to say if you’re not good enough, that’s all on you. Trust me it’s a lot of fun!
Crystal Rose: If you want to cosplay I say do it because life is so short and if you limit yourself you’re going to regret it and you’re going to be having a lot of what-ifs. If you limit yourself you’ll never be happy in life. You’ll miss out on a lot of good opportunities that could have made you happy. Don’t let your weight, race, gender stop you from Cosplaying!
J’Adore: No one becomes a master in a day. The famous cosplay models & big wigs you see today started out making cringeworthy costumes back in the day. We all gotta start somewhere! Do your research, put forth your best effort, try again, carry yourself with confidence and don’t take BS from anyone. If anyone wants to come at you with some rudeness, just declare “RECLAIMING MY TIME” and move on; they’re not worth it.
…Oh, and if you start up cosplay social media and someone keeps DM’ing inappropriate questions, just send them pictures of roadkill. Works every time.
Loryn Stone is the author of the blog. You can find her playing dress-up on Twitter, or lurk her cosplay Instagram: @NerdShitCosplay – She is also writing a new YA manuscript about cosplay, fandom, and LGBT romance.
Orange Juice Cosplay
Crystal Rose Creations
Cosplay page: https://www.facebook.com/zaziecosplay/
Gil Riego Jr.
LA Based Photographer
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