Cosplay: I'm a Grown Woman Who Plays Dress Up

It might just be a sign of my terminal nerdiness that writing a post foments enough relaxation and joy that I can consider it a "break" from paper-writing. Somehow it's finals time already and I am close to a few months of freedom from the Damocles-esque threat of homework and exams. That being said, this post represents a couple of starting points for what will be future series within the blog. There's going to be quite a few posts on cosplay, of which this is one, but there will hopefully also be an equal number of posts on the attitudes, thoughts, and paradigms that are shaping the experience of what it is to be a nerd at present. So, without further ado…

I sometimes like to think of myself as a born-again cosplayer because, really, weren't we all cosplayers at some point in our respective pasts? At some point during our existence to date we affixed a bath towel cape to our collars, made helmets of oversized hats, scrounged for bits of makeshift armor from our parents' kitchen cabinets, or brandished cardboard tube lightsabers and vorpal swords. Some cosplayers will cringe visibly upon reading that comparison, as it alludes to one of the most common inquiries we receive upon revealing our avocation:

Aren't you a little old to be playing dress-up?

It's a question that, even if asked innocently, is typically met with defensiveness, angst, dismissal, or even repudiation. Motivations for this tend to be derived from either personal pride (how DARE you belittle my costumes!), insecurity (they're making fun of me!) or both. While perfectly understandable, these reactions usually aren't truly about the various aggressive or passive-aggressive facets of the question, but rather our own beliefs concerning our hobby. The degrees of offense lie in the belief that we are doing something else, something 'higher' or more sophisticated, than what we'd engaged in as children. We're not; we are playing dress-up.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

That's not to say that the efforts extended in both incarnations of the activity are remotely comparable. Designing and building a set of deployable crystal wings that capture the essence of an ice elemental is not in the same hemisphere as tying an old Christmas tree skirt around your waist and pretending to be Princess Peach (though both are awesome). 
I wish I could have had these wings as a kid.
Making the comparison based on skill or available resources is foolhardy. The effort put forth by either the adult cosplayer or the child at play is meant to achieve exactly the same goal: to pretend to be someone other than your everyday self.

Using costumes and props to enhance one's self-image or to take on the mantle of an entirely novel persona is an activity that is old as human civilization and something that persists into modernity if the billion-dollar wedding gown industry is any indication. To that effect, most such modern full-on costuming either takes place within the context of a ritual or as part and parcel of some larger spectacle (say a play or parade). One could argue that a convention, arguably one of the most common venues for modern cosplay, consists of a bit of both (from the cosplayers perspective). Rife with anticipation, surrounded by your nerdy peers, a convention (a good one anyway) already lies somewhat apart from the mundane, made distinct primarily by the individuals who attend it.

Wait wait wait. Doesn't waxing poetic about cons kinda detract from the earlier statement that you're a grown woman just playing dress-up?

Not at all. This is just setting the scene; explaining why conventions and renaissance fairs create a uniquely  welcoming environment that would inspire certain nerds to go that extra step and make their imaginative passions not only a reality, but a reality on a semi-public stage in full view of their highly knowledgeable peers.
Or the REALLY public view
For many of us it's the ultimate labor of love, a living testament to a favorite series or character. Perhaps it's the challenge of making something truly fantastical a part of our world, even for just a little while. In all likelihood it's a little of each of those and more.  For me personally it's equal parts structural challenge, innate insatiable craftiness, and gushing fangirl. The last point is multi-faceted and circular in a way that I couldn't conceive of until I actually walked the con floor in character. The first time a fellow con-goer approached me with a look of joyous recognition, thrilled to see his favorite character in the flesh, provided me with a new perspective on this then-nascent hobby of mine. I wasn't just playing dress-up for me; I was just a part of the larger imaginative collective at the con. That act of playing dress-up helped my fellow con-goers and I the opportunity to recede into our creative, dorky minds and leave reality behind for just a little while. A game of make-believe on a steroidal scale.

It is my contention that it is this ability to suspend the constraints of the mundane, our refusal to "grow up" even if we are numerical and legal adults, that is one of our defining features as nerds.  It is our charge to keep our imaginations alive, to maintain a little bit of wonder and awe.

So I'm a grown woman who plays dress up. However, given the matters of scale that differentiate my imaginings of old with those of today, perhaps 'born again cosplayer'  can be replaced.

 Though fitting, I think instead I'll refer to my early playing as the work of a cosplay Padawan. (cosplay Jedi to follow in August!)

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