The Body Issue Cosplay Clash

Ok, I'm going to talk about something that I've though about for a looong long time now, and mostly because I just want to get it down somewhere. There has been a lot of conversation about body, looks and cosplay, but this isn't about that discussion. (My thoughts on that can be summarized with 'cosplay what ever the hell you want')

This is about cosplay and what it can do to your bodyimage, and it's going to be a bit personal.

I grew up thinking that I was ugly. When I was a teen, one of my biggest tragedies was that I didn't look like a model. I didn't have the face, or tall slender body, or anything that was marketed as beautiful. Since I lived in a really small town before the internet and social media grew to what it is today, and my life was otherwise quite secure yeah I sometimes cried over how ugly I am. I always thought I was a rather rational girl, and I knew the women and girls on media were highly modified, but it still didn't stop them from effecting me. Since that was all I saw, even the knowledge of the reality didn't comfort much. I was never told I look beautiful, but I heard that being said about other girls often. 'Oh she's so pretty', 'X and Y both fancy her, and I don't wonder', that kinds of things. Even when I started seeing my boyfriend he had a hard time convincing me he really though I was pretty.

So I never considered myself to be much, though I really secretly hoped I would be. Not beautiful, but at least like the others. I mean who doesn't want to be pretty, or to be called so? I didn't really have the confidence to play with clothes or hair or make up... Truth be told I was a really boring looking highschooler. I payed more attention to hiding rather than expressing myself. This was also time before digital cameras and cellphones with cameras became part of everyday life. You couldn't take a million shots and choose the one where you looked the least goofy. You didn't even take photos that often because you also had to pay for them to be developed. It's really different now.

When I first got interested in cosplay I thought also about what I would and would not dare to do. Looking back I think a large part of wanting to cosplay came from starting to want to express myself in some way. Of course a large part of the enjoyment for me comes from the crafting, but I'm thinking it must be an equally driving force behind it as well. To be something you might not otherwise dare to be, or try things you normally aren't. To try if you could be something.

With cosplay has come fact that a large part of it is sharing and taking photos of your costumes, or videos, you name it. I have always been really shy and timid, I'm not pretty, I can't dance, I can't pose, I don't know how to be smooth, I look dumm in photos... But it's been kind of a must learn situation from there. If I want a good picture I need to learn to pose. If I want that photo with a pretty face, learn to make a pretty face. And you know what? It works. At least it has been for me which has been superb, I'm not lying. I just got photos from a photoshoot, and even though I don't look like a model, I don't hate my face in any of the pictures. Of course those are just the top cream of the shoot, I'm sure there were more than triple the amount of pics that I would wish never to be caressed by anyone's eye-whites, but still a handfull of  photos where I don't hate, where I actually like my face, is amazing.
And of course the biggest change isn't on my face, though learning to be comfortable in front of a camera does wonders, but on my attitude and confidence.

The same goes without saying about my body and how I've always viewed it. I'm short, I have a longish too straight back and stumpy legs, a pretty general finnish bodytype with no booty to mention nor narrow waist(that hourglass silhouette that's so coveted) and I have always thought my shoulders to be too wide to my tastes. I used to wear two pieces to the beach because I wanted to wear a two piece, not because I would feel good in wearing one. Last summer was the first time ever, I felt good in a two piece. And I think part of all this also comes from being a bit older and not actually caring as much as I did when I was a teen about what others think and that I would need to look a certain way to be accepted. I have friends now, who tell me without hesitation that I look good in something. I started going to the gym because I though I want to make the best of my cosplays. And it's not that it'd made any difference, at least yet, but it's made me feel better about myself.

Look! A butt! And how nice my legs look.

Same pose from a baad bad angle...  Not so flattering. But because I have a great photo I don't have to fret over this one.

We can retake photos as many times as we want, until were we're happy with the result. Some people are photogenic by default, but taking a good photo has required a lot of learning from me, and there still is a long way to go. All this has also made me look at the bad photos, to learn from them, and be happy about the good ones. The whole process has helped me accept how I look and try to find ways that I could make me even better and happier me. I also compare my photos a lot to other people, and the feeling that you're just as good is so relieving. Not because I 'have' to be pretty, but because growing up thinking you'll never fill the expectations is not healthy.
So telling your friends they look good is really important. I don't do it often enough, I'm still a bit socially awkward  but I try. Not photoshopping our models is important. Because even when you know all the pictures are edited, it's not enough. And post like these are important, not that we can ogle at the imperfections, but so that we can see we're all just as fine and feel good about it.

All this also made me think why has my looks been so important to me, when if you ask me I don't think they should be. Maybe it's because it is everywhere in media. Even politicians and athletes are being judged on their looks so why am I so surprised I've felt so pressured about looks all my life. It's been a large chunk of my selfesteem issues, but I'm just glad cosplay has helped in it's part me to accept my self better. Now only if it could help with all my other issues.

Edit: I wanted to add a small disclaimer here pointing out that I'm talking specifically of self-esteem from the point of view of looks and how it's affected my thoughts on my own appearance, and I wish people don't take this in a way that my self-esteem would be completely based on my looks. It's only a small part of a big picture, and I didn't want to cover too much since confidence&skills/social is usually much more openly discussed anyway. So here I focused on selfesteem, cosplay&looks, not selfesteem in general.

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  1. Nope, don't cry Ilona, stoooop it, nothing to cry about here... But seriously girl, you wrote this so well! <3

    I guess this personal way just might be the only way to really write about cosplay and body image so that it feels something other than just the same old stuff said all over again. I'm sure most of the cosplay girls can relate to pretty much everything here, not sure there are that many girls who'd feel they have been told they're beautiful too many times.

    And this post coming from you, who I've always seen as one of the most beautiful (and talented) people I know and who has seem so confident with yourself and with your body, it did kind of suprise me. So thank you. And I think I might have to write something about this as well, because it seems there's still stuff to be said about body image and stories to be shared. And how big of a deal it is to say to someone how pretty they are. Because everyone is, in their own way, beautiful and I'm so glad to have this hobby that has helped me to realize that too.

    1. It feels so weird to hear you(and others) to think that way when I personally have only mostly seen my faults. My confidence has always been somewhat a fragile little thing, and lately I've tried my best to be good to it. A lot of it is just me trying really hard to do my best, and when it doesn't always work not to give up and try again.
      The biggest realization though has probably been that I've learned to appreciate little things in my own appearance, and that I don't have to look a certain way to be pretty. And when you find some good things it's much easier to forgive some bad ones. There's a good reason I haven't yet made any characters whose main traits are 'beauty' or 'grace' or even 'sexy'. But I'm starting to feel I'm at a point were I might dare try.
      One really ironic thing was at Batmud, when Iris commented how 'it's amazing I had the confidence to stand there wearing so little' and it couldn't have been farther from the truth. But I had made the costume, and I was there, so I tried my best. So it's not always about being truly confident, but also about trying to be. Making mistakes also becomes much easier when you learn to know 'I can do better than this, let's try again'.

      And please do! I would love to hear more thoughts about the issue. Looking at many cosplayers in the finnish scene, I feel like everyone is so talented, so pretty, so composed and happy about themselves I sometimes wonder if I'm the only one with so many insecurities.

      I wanted to write this because of the conversation that's been going on but is usually focused on how people think about appearances concerning other cosplayers, not necessarily what they might think about themselves. I felt like reflecting on how cosplay has helped me to appreciate things in my self and has definitely boosted my own confidence. I still have a lot of insecurities, but working, looking for good things, has made me feel so much better about myself and I'm hoping someone with the same insecurities might read this and do the same.

  2. I can only second what Ilona there wrote. I seriously, sincerely think that you are one of the most awesome posers I've ever had the chance to have a photoshoot with. I mean, those Kasumi photos are pretty much my all time favorites at least they are really high on my personal scale. Plus I think you pick such fitting costumes for you and you look always. Just. Right. I know you are a bit shy and it might be funny for you to take compliments (though I only learned about this through Tumblr messaging with you; at cons you seem really comfident, so I was a bit surprised) but I'm serious, girl. You are one of the biggest inspirations for me both costume and pose wise.

    And on the side note, those Kasumi photos I took of you that are going around Tumblr, they have 6,503 notes now, which is the highest amount I've ever had. And the girl in the photos is you. So. You're awesome. It would be a lie if I said I wasn't crying here. I'm just so proud of you. (I'm also really looking forward to that Kasumi feat. Tali photoshoot!)

    1. I can never emphasize enough how much I appreciate good photos and photographers, they seriously do so much for you and your costume. Every good photo, comment, praise and just a 'like' is a drop in the pond that should be an ocean of confidence and self-esteem, not just for me but for everyone. Or so I believe, that's why I think it's so important to say good things where they're due. I'm not the best at receiving them, yes, but I appreciate every single one. I actually had to train my self specifically to respond with a 'thank you' when someone gives me a positive comment, because it still actually mostly confuses me. In the beginning I had such a hard time believing someone would actually like something I made or how I looked. That said, I'm shamefully terrible at commenting myself, I wish every place would have a 'like' button for shyer folk like me to use.

      And ah yes, the Kasumi photos.. I'm still in a bit of disbelief about them. They are one of my favorites too, and they wouldn't exist without a talented photographer. They shall always be my carrot and stick, looking back if I fail, thinking 'I did that, I can do better, let's try again'. Or looking at your pics, thinking 'I want to be as good' works too. Yeah, can't wait!

  3. Heippa! Pidän ystäväni kanssa Cosvisionissa ohjelmaa cosplaysta, itsetunnosta ja hahmovalinnoista. Blogtekstissäsi olisi hyvä näkökulmia ohjelmaamme, voimmeko käyttää pohdintojasi hyödyksi siinä? Ohjelma on sunnuntaina 11.5. klo13.

    1. Hei, toki voitte käyttää, jos olette käyttämässä lainauksia tms niin lähdemerkintä olisi tietysti mukava :)

    2. Kiitos! Ja totta kai merkitsemme, jos käytämme lainauksia tai jotain sinun omaa pohdintaasi : )