Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete.
As a college senior sitting in my bedroom with my digital camera on hand, I went through the self-portraits I just took, critically examining how my body looked in the black bodysuit I was trying on for a costume. Fifteen minutes in front of the mirror with my camera had already passed. All I wanted was one picture to put on social media to show that I was almost finished with a costume of Nia Teppelin from Gurren Lagann. I also wanted that photo to make me feel like I looked good in the costume so far.
Over my four years of college, I put on about 15 pounds. I often feel guilty when I make that sound like such a huge number. According to charts, I was overweight, but I also knew a part of it was just my body shape and being a short yet heavy-chested and wide-hipped person. In media, I rarely see someone of my body type; the closest ones off the top of my head is Amethyst or Sadie from Steven Universe. Female characters in media, but especially in animation, are usually skinny, and that body type is depicted as the “average” or “normal” one. This is partially due to stylization of animation, but it is still grounded in popular ideas that women need to look a certain way. In the case of Gurren Lagann, the female characters are powerful, but they all have small frames. I look absolutely nothing like Nia. (Note: Yoko, a character from the same series depicted above, does have larger breasts, but cosplayers who are not deemed “not skinny enough” are sometimes referred to as “Fat Yoko.” This is not okay.)
So I sat on the corner of my bed groaning at the camera’s playback. Pictures freeze a moment in time, giving you so many opportunities to make note of what exactly you don’t like about yourself in a photo. Crooked teeth. Bags under eyes that are probably from both constant stress and genetics. Breasts that are too large. Short torso. Wide waist. Curves not defined enough.
I confirmed each photo to be deleted and stood in front of my mirror with my camera again. I posed in such a way to obscure my face so that I didn’t have to worry about what my face looked like in the mirror. I shifted my weight toward one side of my body to lean my hip out a bit. I pulled my shoulders back and positioned my arm to be farther away from my chest.
All of this for a photo.
I’m far from the only person in and out of cosplay who worries about these things. I think many of us are self-conscious about the way we look, and the way you look in the mirror can look very different from the way you look in a photo.
Fortunately, there are tricks in photography for posing in flattering ways. I honestly believe more people should work with talented photographers to get photos of themselves they feel hot or cool in. It’s terrifying to get to that point, though. Even when working with photographers I know well, I don’t know exactly how to position my body in a way that looks aesthetically pleasing in the viewfinder. I’m relieved when I see the photos on the camera’s playback and see how cool I look. Is this even me?
But I only see those photos for a second on a small screen. Once I get the photos after they’ve been processed, then it’s on a monitor for me to stare at, dissecting every small thing I don’t like about myself in that photo. And when it comes down to it, and when it comes down to photos of many popular cosplayers, I notice I’m rounder, my legs are shorter, and I’m very far away from a model’s appearance.
I don’t want to be worried about that. Cosplay is a hobby, and it’s something I do because I really like a character or I want to hang out with friends who like the same series. This isn’t something that should make me anxious. Unfortunately, there are people who still think it’s acceptable to judge cosplayers’ body type — as if we care about their opinion. But still, once you put a photo online, it can travel far. Sometimes that’s exciting! Sometimes it’s terrifying.
So when I finished my Nia cosplay, I wavered between excitement and anxiety. I wasn’t completely happy with photos of myself taken by fans of the show at conventions, but once I saw the photos my friend at Smile Jade Photography took with me — on a trip into Inner Harbor Baltimore to the dismay of everyone getting dinner there that night — I was elated.
I don’t have much control over the way a picture is shot or where it ends up going online. However, I do have the control to accept the way I look — along with working out at the gym in spare time — and to shamelessly love the pictures that make me feel beautiful. And I’m going to embrace technology in allowing me to take an endless amount of pictures of myself until I get the one I’m satisfied with.