There is Something Special About Cosplay

July 3, 2015
Castiels at AX.

In an effort to be insightful, I have been trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that drives me, or anyone, to cosplay at cons. I've done some reading, including a study performed by Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Dr. Robin Rosenberg, two of the leading experts on the subject. I've sifted through posts on forums and websites like Tumblr,, Reddit, and multiple blogs to see if other people have shared their cosplay experiences, if anyone else has discussed the psychology behind cosplay, or anything related to psychology and the drive to cosplay.

What I found was very interesting, but it didn't completely answer my (broad) questions. What is it about cosplay? Why? So I turned to my own experience.

I started cosplaying several years ago. The first time I cosplayed, it was at San Diego Comic Con as a Lady Darth Vader. My cosplay was not superb in any way. I had put some time in it, but I was new to the whole thing, and I had very little experience crafting in real life. But I had a lot of fun, and a few people even asked for pictures. It felt nice to be noticed and to be recognized! A couple years later, I asked my grandmother for help in creating an outfit I wanted to wear to Comikaze Expo. It was a very specific, detailed, and beautiful dress from an anime that I had begun to really like.

Ciel Phantomhive as a girl in Black Butler
The process of making the dress was very therapeutic. At the time, I was still in grad school, working on my dissertation, taking classes, and completing an internship. I was very stressed, and I needed to find healthier ways to cope. My grandmother knew how to make just about anything, so after I presented her with some images, she was able to come up with a way to make the pink dress pictured above.

Cosplaying is not just about wearing an outfit for me, although that's part of it. There is something special about the process. I decided to start a Tumblr. Being able to document the process of making the dress, with pictures and comprehensive instructions, was like an avenue to connect with other, like-minded people. Some people found it useful in making their own Ciel cosplays, so they were contacting me about it. That was pretty cool. Not only that, but I was stimulating my mind.

Being creative helps us be healthier in multiple ways. It allows us to decrease our anxieties, have more control over external world, be generally happier, and gives us an opportunity to better express ourselves. So when I think of why I cosplay, what I just described is definitely a huge part of it. But there is another part that is not easy to put into words. It's more of a feeling.

Some time ago I found myself having a conversation about cosplay and psychology with a colleague. We discussed Jacques Lacan's "mirror stage" and social identification theory. We talked about the value of recognizing ourselves in another, and knowing that we have something in common through a single glance. For example, you walk into the convention center in your cosplay and glance across the exhibit hall, and you make eye contact with someone who is also in cosplay from the same fandom. You may not approach them, you may not see them for the rest of the weekend, but you experience an immediate and lasting positive feeling.

It is the feeling that accompanies that single shared glance that is hard to describe, and that is what makes cosplay so special. When people ask me at cons if they can take a picture of or with me in cosplay, the expressions on their faces are so pleasant and warm that I feel an immediate connection with them, and then I feel pleasant and warm. As those feelings are internalized, I know that I belong and that I am accepted.  And what's more, I know that those feelings of belonging and acceptance are mutual! If you are not a cosplayer but are still a fan of something, when you look at someone who is dressed up as a character from the show you like, you probably experience that feeling too. When you go to the mall and see someone wearing a shirt from an anime that you are a fan of, you get a bit of that feeling.

At that moment, you recognize a part of yourself in another. That is connection, and it is one of the most important aspects of life. Connecting with others increases our happiness and our overall health. At that moment, you are also validated because someone else has ideas and favorite things similar to yours.

When you're in cosplay, you aren't just showing your geek. You are exposing a part of who you truly are and what makes you you. In our day to day interactions, we don't usually get to start conversations with statements about what we like and who we are. But when we are in cosplay, these facts are out there in the open for anyone who cares to read them. In a way, it's an expression of love, and others recognize it. When you cosplay, you are putting yourself out there for people to see you. You are telling the world that you are creative, that you are fun, that you are passionate, and most importantly that you are not afraid of being yourself.

And really, you shouldn't be, because you are awesome.

5 comments on "There is Something Special About Cosplay"
  1. Nice post again :) I'm sharing it <3

  2. Cosplaying is so rewarding! The challenges and fun of the build stage... then the pride of wearing the finished product after all the hours spent creating it. Extra bonus when others are interested in the build or want photos of you :-)

    1. Totally! I look forward to cosplaying at cons every year! What's been your favorite cosplay that you've done so far?

  3. Hello!!! cosplaying is really fun!! I think it's another way to be creative!! :D