Cosplaying as a Woman of a Certain Age

I’ve always thought cosplay was cool, but never really had a chance to do it myself. I didn’t really discover it was A Thing™ untill my “best” cosplaying years were behind me. I say “best” only because it seems the majority of cosplayers are young fans with money and time on their hands (also whose young bodies are more likely to more closely resemble the ideal physiques of some of our favorite characters). I spent a lot of my 20s devoting my money and time to figuring my life out and trying to “grow up.” Even though I’d still indulge in fandom in my leisure time, my subconscious and various exterior influences in my life told me that attending cons wasn’t something I “should” do and spending time and money on cosplay was a silly youthful waste I should be trying to move “beyond.”

I attended my first real con, New York Comic Con, in 2012, when I was already solidly past the age of 30. The event was overblown even then, but still far less so than it is now, and I loved every minute. I loved wandering the floor, even though I was too poor to buy anything. I stood in line to get an autograph and picture with My Doctor, Peter Davison. My husband and I had a passing run-in with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, at a time when the show and the comic were in their glory. I wasn’t much for actual comic books, but those I actually read, so I was starstruck. And oh my lord, the cosplay. I remember walking the few blocks from the subway to the convention center surrounded by glorious geeks of every stripe dressed as all sorts of characters I recognized and even more that I didn’t. And no one batted an eye. This was just expected. All these spandex-clad, prosthetics-enhanced, cape-wearing crazies were all going the same place and no one was judging them. Or if they were being judged, they simply didn’t care. Sure, as I strolled the adjacent neighborhood after the con in search of dinner, it was clear the native New Yorkers were a bit peeved by the weirdo invasion, but the weirdos themselves weren’t bothered.

At the time of that con, I had just started a Real Job. Shortly thereafter, I got pregnant with my first kid. And right after that kid was born, that Real Job went away and I went through a couple years of juggling freelancing, new parenthood, post-partum depression, and being broke as a joke all the time. It was, to put it mildly, not the time to start a new and expensive hobby that takes time and cash away from your brand new kiddo, not to mention pregnancy and childbirth do not give anyone a more fit body than they had before, I don’t care who you are. So cosplay became one of those “maybe someday” dreams as I focused instead on solidifying my family’s foundations. It’s worked, sort of (she said with the trepidation of one who has been impacted by more than one economic downturn in her adult life). We’re doing okay, there’s a house and good jobs and another kid now, and both kids are bigger and don’t need me constantly anymore. The time seemed finally right to give it a try.

Karen at Garden State Comic Fest

This year, my husband and I had historic, unprecedented plans: to attend a con, for a full day, together, unencumbered by children. Normally, only one of us will go, or we’ll go part of the day, or we’ll bring the kids along, or some combo thereof. It is never ideal. But we had this one shot and I wasn’t going to waste it. I still don’t have a ton of disposable income or time, so it would have to be relatively easy/cheap, but I was willing to try. I have a lot of goals on my pinterest board. Most of them would have cost too much to make look really good. Also, I’m 39, I’ve had two kids, and I don’t regularly exercise. Action heroine-esque is not how I would describe my figure. I greatly admire those with larger figures who choose to not give a damn and dress how they want. I am not currently there, confidence-wise. But there was one character who has come into existence recently, who fits my fandom perfectly, for whom body type isn’t an issue, and whose costume I could piece together fairly inexpensively. The idea was, in a word, brilliant.

I started with the toughest piece, knowing if I couldn’t get that right, there was no point. I found a pair of elastic waist, loose leg teal pants in the online consignment shop ThredUp. Since they weren’t a real high-demand item, they didn’t cost much and with store credit I had, I basically only paid for shipping. Then, somewhat miraculously, I hit the Hot Topic website in the midst of a clearance sale during which the top and a crucial prop were both on sale for 50% off. Amazon found me a key accessory for under $10 and a necessary wig for $20. All told, the look ran me about $60. Then came putting it together and adjustments. The character wears her top tucked into her trousers with suspenders over it. That’s not how normal humans dress, because it looks terrible on most real people, but the character is not a normal human, so it was shapewear to the rescue. The wig took a bit of getting used to, but without it I would just have looked like a fan in slightly odd clothes. The prop, though unnecessary, really completed the look and gave me something to do, a way to interact with people who chose to interact with me, rather than my standard introvert awkward-smile-and-stumble-over-words response. 

I was ready, but I was nervous. I barely told anyone ahead of time what I was going to do. I posted a preview pic of me in the wig to my IG Story, mostly just to freak people out and also because Stories are temporary. I got an overwhelmingly positive response to it, a lot of people excited to see me in the blond hair I haven’t worn since… well, since that first NYCC. Still, I was nervous about being judged. I didn’t even tell my husband, I just sort of walked downstairs in the outfit on the day, ready to go. In the past, when I’d propose a couple or group Halloween costume or when I’d show him awesome pictures of others’ cosplays, his response had been lukewarm, so I had the impression that he, like many others, thought cosplay was somewhat lame. Thanks, Anxiety, for getting me in my own head and making me confuse “this is not for me” with “I think this is stupid.” His positive reaction to my look gave me the confidence to hit the road in it and not look back.

Photo by Matt Mutch

I have to say, the day was thrilling. What the seven years between that first NYCC and now had not washed away was the overwhelming feeling of acceptance. As soon as I hit the con floor as the Thirteenth Doctor, I felt at ease. Not everyone knew or cared who I was, but no one thought I was dumb for dressing like that. Just like the flood of cosplayers that surrounded me as I walked into NYCC, I was among my people and it was all good. It was a comic convention and I was cosplaying a TV character (who does have a comic book based on her show), so I didn’t get the huge reaction I might have gotten dressed as a comic character, but I certainly got smiles and respect from all who recognized my look. My favorite, I think, was a woman dressed as Rey from Star Wars escorting two small costumed superheroes who just gave me a nod and a “Doctor” as we passed each other. I was also fortunate enough to do a photo shoot with experienced cosplay photographer and fellow Geekader Matt Mutch. I was giddy the whole time, trying to physically embody the character’s spirit while I was posed and directed to look my best, coolest, and most badass. The resulting images are stunning and hugely empowering for me.

Photo by Matt Mutch

Seven years after discovering a hobby I thought I might like, I finally had the courage and the means to explore it and I loved it. I will probably not have the opportunity to create a new look for a while, but that’s okay. The thing about cosplay is, once you’ve created one look, you can keep wearing it every time you have the chance. The initial investment may seem large, but the repeated returns on it make it worth doing. And after having spent all day in that environment, in that look, embodying that character, I am psyched to do it again. Any feelings I had about being too old, too fat, or too grown-up to cosplay were obliterated by the smiles and compliments I received while wearing the look. Putting the pieces together satisfied my omnipresent creative crafty urges and portraying the character filled the gap left by being too busy to participate in theater as much as I did when I was younger.

 

If you have any interest at all in cosplay, I’d strongly encourage you to pursue it no matter what your apprehensions might be, even if you think your look won’t be good enough. Even if there’s some reason in your head why you think you shouldn’t. Cosplay is for all people of any age, size, race, gender, level of ability, etc. It is called cosPLAY because it is FUN and fun is for everyone.

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