Cosplay Empowerment: Transforming with Costumes to Reveal Hidden Superpowers
March 30, 2023
“My name is Becki,” says a young woman in a convention center turned comic book bazaar. She flips her hair of hair in orange and then launches into a Scottish accent. “And today I am Merida from Brave.“
Becki Turner, who is 28 years old, and hails from Waldorf, Md., is attending AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C., together with hundreds of others in extravagant costumes. Turner claims she is more reserved when she isn’t a Disney princess or a Scottish fairy from a Disney film. “I’m more confident when I’m dressed in cosplay. I don’t suffer from as many anxieties as I do when I’m myself, and I have [like] a little bit of social anxiety.”
She slacks off her green dress and holds her recurved bow while sporting a grin on her face. “[Merida’s] a strong, fierce, self-reliant woman,” Turner says. She is today equally strong and determined as she has ever been.
In the 1960s and 1970s science fiction conventions in America began to allow people to dress as fantasy or science fiction characters. The first cosplayers to wear costumes from Star Trek and Star Wars. But the practice has increased. Costumes are often taken from anime, comic books, video games, movies, and TV shows. Imagine any character from a modestly popular science fiction or fantasy universe, and you’ll have been someone who’s masqueraded as that persona. And there are large subsets of cosplay that are specialized, such as the “bronies:” men who dress as ponies from My Little Pony.
Cosplayers are a group of people who dress up as characters and go to conventions throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan. This is a space where geeks come together to have fun and get to know their science fiction and fantasy fellows. The cosplayers relish the opportunity to change into a different individual or object.
It’s much more than just a game of dressing up. The costumes they pick bring out something in them which isn’t normally visible. Ni’esha Wongusfrom Glen Burnie, Md. has a 6-foot-long foam pistol and wears an edgy pleather dress. She declares, “I am Fortune from Metal Gear Solid 2.” “I remain an introvert. When I got all the buckles and straps put on, grabbed the gun, and stood in front of the mirror for the first time, was it any surprise? It was the first thing I was in love with. I feel like there’s some power, some confidence, within me because of this.”
Leland Coleman Leland Coleman, a Nashville, Tenn. resident believes that his costume is an evolution. He was inspired by Captain America during the last year, after he lost 45 pounds. He designed the Renaissance Marvel Comics version of Captain America. The costume “gave him strength.” I feel that I’ve grown into it and become it.”
These cosplayers invoke clothing’s subtle influence on us. Clothing has been used to seduce, subdue and entertain for centuries. People can feel and look different in certain clothing. Psychologists are trying to determine how clothes can influence our cognitive abilities and the extent to which it affects us. Adam Galinsky, a psychologist at Columbia Business School, spoke with NPR’s Hanna Rosin for the podcast and the show Invisibilia. Galinksy did a study in which he required participants to wear white coats. He explained to some participants they were wearing a painter’s smock and to others that they were dressed in a doctor’s jacket.
Then he tested their attention and focus. Participants who believed they were wearing the doctor’s coat were more focused and focused than those who were wearing the painter’s smock. The patients wearing the doctor’s coat were 50% more careful in a meticulous test. Galinksy believes that this happens because, when people don the doctor’s coat, they begin feeling more like doctors. “They see doctors as being very meticulous, extremely precise,” Galinksy says. The process is symbolic. The clothes become you when you put on your clothes.
Nearly every attire that has an important meaning seems to have this effect, designed to reflect the item as it is a symbol. A study found that counterfeit sunglasses made by people were more likely to lie and cheat than authentic sunglasses. It was like fakes provided them with an advantage in slyness. “If the object has been associated with a meaning that we are drawn to it, we grab it, we activate it. We wear it, and we take it off,” says Abraham Rutchick, a psychologist at California State University Northridge.
Rutchick has discovered that those who wear formal attire for interviews tend to think more abstractly and are more focused on the bigger picture than people wearing casual clothes. For example, those in formal attire would think that locking the door was more like securing a home, which is an abstract idea, than turning a key, which is a mechanical aspect.
The effect from clothing is probably twofold, Rutchick says. “When I dress in those things, I will feel certain things,” Rutchick says. And, he adds, “I [also] feel what people think of me, and that’s likely to alter my behavior and the way I feel about myself.”
The effect of that feedback is apparent in the cosplay crowd, where people hurry to compliment each other on costumes and take photos.
Riki LeCotey known as a well-known and well-loved cosplayer from Atlanta who is known by the stage name Riddle she says the power she finds in cosplay is both from the costumes and people’s reactions. “Someone is saying, “You’re the perfect Black Cat” [a character from Spiderman]. You’re thinking “Oh they believe that I’m hot.” I feel sexy in the outfit. Maybe I am sexy,’ ” she says.
LeCotey noted that these feelings can linger long after the event. “You sort of recall the costume when you take it off. It is also possible to look through pictures and find yourself reminded. It will stay with you if you do it over and over. It’s almost like having a muscle memory of your sexiness. LeCotey says that cosplaying made her feel more confident than as a shy teenager 17 years ago.
In the most fundamental sense, LeCotey states that “[cosplaying] is about embodying the characters you love.” In her case, this is choosing characters you identify with due to a similar background or a characteristic she is awestruck by. The results show that a quarter of cosplayers agree with her. They select their characters based on psychological traits or the stories they tell as per a study in The Journal of Cult Media.
The clothes serve as a channel to these traits but it doesn’t need to be elaborate. Jennifer Breedon, a Washington, D.C. AwesomeCon attendee says she woke up on the morning of and wanted to wear the clothes of Black Widow. She is wearing a leather jacket, combat boots, and black tights. This isn’t Natasha Romanova’s catsuit, and there’s no S.H.I.E.L.D. patch to determine the Marvel Comics hero. It is effective for Breedon. “And today I am channeling that character, that person that feels that affinity for them.
She describes it as a more subtle cosplay. She chooses characters that typically wear simple or casual attire. It’s not easy to spot but it’s there. I’m aware of it,” she says.
It is often difficult to see the costumes such as Jessica Jones’s grey jeans and hoodie, or her boots, which are all part of Marvel Comics. However, Breeden claims that in an incredibly difficult time when she was in a state of isolation and defeat, her clothing helped her gain the strength to move forward.
Breedon who is now 32 says that a decade ago, she felt like an unworthy person. She struggled with an eating disorder, drug use, and even a serious suicide attempt. She also had an eating disorder, drug abuse, and a suicide attempt. She says that in the years after her rehabilitation began, her health and life have been in danger. “Even now, I feel an unspoken shame that I feel, and I have to deal with it each day.”
She finished law school and got an internship. It was an incredible achievement; she told everybody. Then, they fired her a couple of months later, stating that she wasn’t the right fit. She slipped into depression and thought, “I’ll never be good enough.”
Breedon claims that she spent three days alone in her room and watching Jessica Jones for three days. In her grey hoodie,, she wore exactly as Jessica. She states, “I had to be Jessica.” “The Hoodie made me feel special. Jessica Jones is always like, ‘I don’t want to work for your law firm, or S.H.I.E.L.D. or whatever.’ or whatever. She was able to be her person. It made me wonder if I was meant to be a part of that company. I just felt at peace.”