Growing up, I was always “too something” or “not something enough.” I heard it all the time, that I was “too skinny,” “too tall,” “too smart,” “too quiet,” “too weird” or “not pretty enough,” “not cool enough,” “not fun enough.” And after a while, not matter how you ever felt about yourself or your level of self-confidence, you start to believe some of those things. From the time I was a young teenager, I’ve felt like I really was all of those things, and never felt like I was “enough.” How could I be if there were apparently all of these things “wrong” with me? Of course, being a teenager is a tough time for most people, our bodies are changing, our minds and styles are developing and sometimes we’re able to grow out of these insecurities.
I know now that my anxiety disorder, coupled with years of taunting and bullying, had led me to develop body dysmorphic disorder. I was obsessed with my perceived or even imagined physical flaws—acne and acne scars continue to be a constant battle—and wanted desperately to change them. High school was particularly difficult for me. I went through a year of severe depression and sunk deeper into my dysmporhia. I became more and more withdrawn, for fear of being made fun of or being embarrassed, and spent more and more time on my computer and playing video games. Having friends through RPGs and games allowed me to just be myself, without the fear of exposing any physical flaws. In fact, I can confidently say that being accepted by the geek community saved my life, because behind a computer screen, I could be the smart, funny, talented person I really was without having to worry about what I looked like. Things eventually got manageable, but even into adulthood, I always felt like I wasn’t enough, not matter how hard I tried, I would never measure up.
Now, at 24 years old, I’m finally at a place in my life where I can look in the mirror and like what I see. I still have nitpicky things I don’t like—I’ve always felt like my chin and jawline aren’t defined enough, for instance—but for the most part, I feel good about myself. I attribute a lot of this to my personal and professional successes, but also to the man who tells me how beautiful I am every day. But still, I retain a large amount of fear when it comes to being judged on how I look and have had to learn to face my fear head on. One way I do this is through cosplay.
A year ago, Peter and I went to WonderCon as Green Arrow and Black Canary. Black Canary’s costume is relatively tame (considering characters like Witch Blade) and yet I was nervous the entire time. I was terrified that people would think I was too big or alternately not curvy enough. I was afraid that my acne scars would show. But at the end of the day, I felt great. Every time someone asked to take my picture, I was elated. Every time Peter told me he noticed someone looking at me and giving him a thumbs up, I was flattered. When a friend called me a “strong female character,” I was proud. Now this might seem narcissistic or shallow, but for someone who has struggled with body image for the majority of their lives, it was a defining time in my life. Through these seemly trivial interactions, I realized that I didn’t have to be afraid. Sure, maybe some people would think I was “too something” or “not something enough,” but as long as I was comfortable with myself it didn’t matter. Duh, right? But for someone with BDD, this concept was not so duh, so this was a major breakthrough.
And that’s what I’ve come to realize about cosplay, that it’s about being comfortable with yourself. I don’t have to be this perfect image of a character or even this perfect image of a woman because both of those ideals are unattainable. This is the notion I’ve had to come to grips with as I prepare to cosplay as the iconic Red Sonja at this year’s WonderCon. I know that I will never, in my life, look exactly like her. And you know what, that’s OK. I might never be confident enough to have a costume that looks exactly like hers, so I’ve created one that I’m comfortable with, and that’s OK. I know that my cosplay might never be as good as someone else’s and that’s OK. I’m going to walk the floor on Saturday as Red Sonja and I’m going to be OK.
Exchange the skimpy outfit and Sonja is still a strong, powerful, confident woman who stands for justice and doing what’s right. She cares for people and punishes the wicked, no matter what she’s wearing. And if you take away whatever physical flaws I or society might think I have, I know that I’m still the intelligent, accomplished and compassionate young woman that I am. That’s what being Sonja has taught me about myself. This whole experience has been life changing for me. I’m in the best physical and mental shape of my adult life and I’ve grown more confident in my ability to accomplish things I’ve never done before, like making armor or weaving scales. Sure I’ll probably still be nervous on Saturday, walking around so exposed, but I’m immeasurably proud of myself for putting myself out there. And that’s what gives me the confidence to do this. That no matter what anyone says or thinks, I’m happy with myself.
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