Cosplay is one of the most important aspects of my life, but the community is another story.
At some point in life, most people want to be famous.
Most people want to have millions of followers on Instagram, they want people to see them in public and beg them for pictures, they want to be rewarded and highlighted for their status.
When I first entered the cosplay community at thirteen years old, I sucked at makeup, my costumes were simple and easy to make, but they pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of and I was so proud of what I had done. My first memories of walking around a convention center at thirteen are some of my most fond memories because back then I didn't have a care in the world. It was new, it was a whole different realm I had never experienced before. In all honesty, I was the kid in the candy store soaking in everything, every costume, every panel, every person I recognized, I loved it.
When I was thirteen the thought of being popular hadn't interested me. I didn't know anything about the online Instagram community. I was just having a good time. It didn't matter how many likes I got on a photo, but as I grew in experience, the desire for fame churned within my chest.
By the age of fifteen and sixteen, I was constantly trying to win the attention of other people. My eyes were glued to my follower account, I was obsessed with the number of likes I was receiving. Was I good enough? How was I comparing to others? When would I reach 100 followers? 200? 300? 400? How many people would like me, my content, my internet persona I put out for people to like me?
It was taxing.
I wasn't cosplaying because I liked it, I was cosplaying to try to get famous. I was trying to get one business to give me free merch, I was trying to get another business to put me on their page in the hopes of gaining more followers. I was so unhappy with my situation but as the numbers went up I felt like everything was okay. I thought that my worth, my abilities, my everything was based on that follower button.
One day, I crashed. I was done. I went on a massive hiatus, I stopped functioning within the cosplay world. I hated cosplay, I hated looking at my costumes, I refused to put on makeup, I refused to open my Instagram to that account because I was sick and tired of it. I was tired of pretending to be someone I wasn't in order to feel validated. I was wearing a mask and eventually, it had gotten to be too much, I couldn't breathe anymore.
I didn't post for months. I talked to my friends who were in the community and expressed how awful I felt. I told them how much I hated the community, how it made me felt, how much pressure I had on my shoulders and how I felt like there was nothing I could do. Sure, I could delete my accounts and start over, but there was still the pressure of starting at zero again. I would be nothing, my image erased from the world of social media in the blink of an eye. It was a terrifying thought, vanishing from the community I once considered my second home.
I was the first to fall, then my friends began to follow. As we graduated high school and the summer of our senior years sank in, their realities started to become clear too. The felt what I felt: the pressure, the anxiety, the false sense of joy. Cosplay wasn't fun because it was a battle. Everyone was at each other's throats trying to get ahead, trying to get the next business sponsor, the most likes, the most followers. Cosplay wasn't fun anymore.
The more we talked about it, the more toxic actions we saw. We saw the users, the clout-seekers, the fame-obsessed people. We saw all of them. It was like we were standing on the outside, looking in on everything, watching everyone try to be the best like we had done for so many years.
It's a vicious cycle to get out of, but I learned from my experience. Social media has brought the cosplay community to its downfall. It's not fun anymore to share your photos and progress because whether you want to play the number game or not, you're still obsessed with it. There's no escaping the prison of anxiety the cosplay community has on you, it's not something that will go away with time either. Only the people who realize the toxic nature of the social media game will be able to fully understand and be able to help themselves from it, but those who don't will continue the game until they crash and burn as I did.
By no means does this mean I hate the cosplay community, I love it more than the world. I've met my two best friends in the community and I'm so grateful for them. I don't know who I would be as a person without them in my life, and I have cosplay to thank for that. The issue is I'm sick of the community. I'm tired of people doing cosplay to make money and to have fame instead of simply enjoying the nerd culture because at the end of the day, we're all nerds walking around a convention center in costumes and that's all there is to it.
Now, at eighteen years old, I look at cosplay the same way I did when I was thirteen. It's something that I do for fun. I cosplay the characters I want to cosplay because I love them, I love their designs. I cosplay so I can run around a convention center, screaming at the top of my lungs to my friend all the way across the hall. I cosplay to see my friends who I old get to see once or twice a year. I cosplay to have fun.
I cosplay for me.
Not for anyone else. Not for the numbers, the followers, the clout, the money, the pictures, the cosplay community.
I cosplay for me, and for the first time since I was thirteen years old, I'm so happy with cosplay.
I've improved dramatically in five years: my makeup skills are much better, I actually know how to sew now, but those things don't matter. It doesn't matter how much better I've gotten at cosplay, as long as I'm happy. As long as I'm feeling like that kid in a candy store the second I walk into that convention center is all that matters to me.
The cosplay community is toxic. It's scary for young teenagers who are impressionable and who crave that validation.
I fell out of love with the cosplay community I grew accustomed to, but now I've learned that that's for the better. The feelings I have now are so much healthier and so much more validating than I ever felt in that community.
I'm so glad I fell out of love with the cosplay community, because I'm forever changed for the better, and I'm loving cosplay for the right reasons, and that's what really matters.
Cosplay of: Ball Gown Totoro
From: Studio Ghibli's My Neighbor Totoro
Cosplayer: Myself, @ambedoic on Instagram
Cover Photo: @galactic_photos_ on Instagram