cw: discussion of mortality, mental health, existential realization
So. It’s been a while, and unfortunately will be an uncertain amount of time longer before I’m able to pick up cosplay again due to an… ‘agreement’ (ultimatum) with work. Either I work five days a week or I lose my benefits/pension/job security. I won’t get into how messed up this process became, other than to say this summer has been one of the most stressful periods of my life. And like. That’s saying a lot considering my academic & medical history.
In an effort to process and accept the impact on my life this change will have, I’ve done a bunch of thinking on how I choose and chose to spend my free time. Some of this gets personal, and might not map to other people’s experiences, but I bet that there’s at least one other person out there who has felt similarly.
Cosplay as a Refuge
A couple years ago, the first time I had to deal with discrimination and harassment at work, I sought refuge in two things: friends and cosplay. I sank a lot of money into fabric and patterns, wigs and accessories for costumes that I would make ‘as soon as I had time’.
I never got around to most of them.
Cosplay was a refuge for me: it was a craft that let me see progress and let me work with my hands as much as with my brain. It was creative, and I could work on planning costumes during my breaks at work.
Cosplay became addictive because it let me feel like I had some measure of control over costumes when I felt like I was powerless over the rest of my life. Cosplay was a coping mechanism for me to get through that period, and at the time, that was exactly what I needed. To get through.
When I was on the other side, in a new job with a questionable reputation, I had to re-evaluate my priorities. The new job meant I had to invest more energy to learn skills and prove that I was work the hiring risk. I also was working on recovering from the flare up of Fibromyalgia caused by the stress of the work situation. I thought I had made an impact: over the next six months my employer rolled out three new anti-discrimination initiatives. (spoilers: I made no difference, and two years later dealt with the same shit, different manager)
It felt like a hard won victory, and in comparison, Cosplay had to take a back seat. But it was more than just a time and energy management issue. Around this time I had a falling out with someone who had, up until this point, been a very close friend. A cosplay friend.
It made me second guess my place in the local community, and ultimately, the Central Canadian community as a whole. All of a sudden, Cosplay wasn’t a refuge anymore. It was a weird Middle-school landscape of friend groups and rumours and all that shit I thought we were over.
But, I mean. We’re humans. (Unless we’re cats, I guess). We make mistakes and make things awkward. Feelings get hurt and people get uncomfortable.
I took a break. I had to separate a lot of the bitterness related to work and the friendship from the actual act of making. It was hard. The only thing that worked was time and giving myself the space and forgiveness to step back from and decide what aspects of this Hobby I wanted to keep, and which I did not.
It wasn’t a particularly flattering process.
Cosplay as a Swamp
I’m not going to sugar-coat this part. Cosplay should be for everyone. Everyone should be able to enjoy dressing up in costumes, and we’re a lot closer to that then we were years ago thanks to shops that sell wigs and costumes at affordable prices.
Feeling good about your costume, and then seeing a picture of yourself in it… only to feel your whole body sag because you were sure you didn’t look like that while you were wearing it. Only, you must have, because all the pictures are like that except the selfie you took.
That feeling, whether valid or just internalized objectification , is not a good feeling. Especially when you’ve worked so hard on your costume, makeup, and wig.
Unfortunately, so much of cosplay is hyper-focused on image because cosplay itself is a visual medium. Fabrics and paint and makeup and wigs and posing… it’s all about visual impact. To see yourself in a way that makes you feel bad can often leave a horrible sucking feeling at your heart that suggests “oh. Maybe I should just not go outside ever again.”
It’s a stupid suggestion, outside is great.
Outside has birds and trees and waterfalls.
These are all valid feelings, though. I realised that I’ll never again be the althete I once was. It’s not possible between my health and needing to work for like, rent and food. I have a few baby wrinkles starting, and a second grey hair now. Those aren’t going anywhere. Maybe the squish on my belly won’t either. Or the extra inches on my thighs.
Until I’m okay with these new truths, why should I submit myself to things that make me feel badly about myself?
Cosplay is weird like that. The act of creation, of building a costume, is magic. It’s wonderful and empowering. But the act of wearing certain costumes has become the opposite: embarrassing at times, painful at others. If I could make beautiful things and like, plop them onto a mannequin or a model, that would be ideal.
I loved the design of the Pukei Pukei armor from Monster hunter. And I started work on it before I knew what the end result of the day-job situation would be. By the time it was finished, I knew that Otakuthon would be my last ‘big cosplay’ con for… a while? Years? Ever? So I pushed myself a little bit more than I normally would.
I waited in line for hours to register.
I waited in line for hours to get into the green room.
I waited in the greenroom for hours.
I went on stage for 60 seconds.
I got an award and while standing on stage holding my ribbon, I was in pain. Everything was swollen and hurt. My skin, my joints, muscles. And that ribbon that I had spent so many hours working toward, suddenly seemed really pointless.
It was, as we say in English, a watershed moment.
I have thoughts on how to streamline the current Central Canadian Masquerade process but that’s for another post at another time. What I will say is that I realised at that moment, standing on stage, that my time was far too precious to spend waiting on a hard concrete floor for a ribbon. I think I needed that moment for what was coming: as painful as it was, I needed that level of closure on something that had been extremely important to me.
On the bus home, I unfollowed the majority of cosplay accounts on my social media. I deleted facebook. It was a catharsis and a precaution. I knew that I would feel like I was missing out if I was flooded with cosplay everyday, and knew I couldn’t participate.
I thought it would be temporary.
I’m Still Here
I had… a very low point in the early fall. I sat, and looked at my life and cried when I saw struggle and burnout in a repeating pattern. I saw a small social circle, and worried that my lack of positive news brought them down. I wasn’t worried they would leave, the ones that would were already gone.
I used to have so many words to define myself: Creative. Athlete. Writer. Hard Worker. Cosplayer. Friend. And when all that was stripped away, I was still there.
How often do we get asked “what do you do?” as a question to introduce who we are? “Who are you?” can seem accusatory, but is that because of how we’ve been socialised to ask about work first? Or is it because this is a much harder question to answer?
Without finding worth in work, without finding refuge in cosplay, without finding strength in physical activity… Who am I?
I’m still thinking about it, but that moment in early fall has given me a few answers: I’m a survivor. I’m persistent. I refuse to give up on myself. I love being outside, and have spent too many years ignoring that. I miss travelling, exploring, adventure.
Cosplay is great, and I miss making things, but Life is more important. Unfortunately, right now, I can only focus on one of those things, so Cosplay has to continue to wait until I can balance work, life and cosplay properly.
It’s been rough, I’m still here.
And so are you.