Unmasking Potential: The Art of Embodying Superpowers in Cosplay

A young lady stands in the middle of a comic book fair and declares, “My name’s Becki.” Then she flips her mane of orange hair and begins to speak in a Scottish accent. “And today I am Merida from Brave.

Becki Turner, 28, from Waldorf, Md., is at AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C., as are thousands of other attendees dressed in extravagant costumes. Turner says she’s more reserved when she isn’t an actual Disney princess or a Scottish fairy from a Disney film. When I’m cosplaying, I feel less shy. I don’t have the same anxiety as when I’m myself, and I have [likehaving a bit of social anxiety.”

The actress flaunts her dress in green and brandishes a recurved bow, with a smile on her face. Turner declares that Merida is a strong confident, strong and independent woman. And today, so is she.

Costumes for science fiction or fantasy characters began at science fiction conventions across the United States back in the 60s and 70s. The first cosplayers wore outfits inspired by Star Trek and Star Wars. But fashion has increased. Costumes are worn by people that are based on comics, anime videos, games, films, and TV shows. Consider characters from even an obscurely popular science fiction or fantasy universe, and there’s probably someone dressed as that character. There are numerous subgroups of specialty cosplay, such as the “bronies” who are men who dress in the costume of My Little Pony ponies.

The cosplayers of today, a portmanteau of costume role players, are a regular fixture at conventions across Japan, Europe, and the U.S. For geeks, the convention offers a sanctuary where they can nerd out and meet their science fiction and fantasy friends. For the cosplayers, that means sharing the experience of changing themselves into someone else, or something other than themselves.

However, for many, it’s more than an ordinary dress-up game. They reveal something about their personalities that’s not always apparent in the clothes they pick. Ni’esha Woongus from Glen Burnie, Md. has a 6-foot-long foam pistol and wears an elegant pleather-lined bodice. “I am Fortune from Metal Gear Solid 2,” she claims. “I am an introvert. When I got all the buckles and straps put on, grabbed the gun, and stood in front of the mirror for the first time did it come as a surprise? I fell in love with it. As a result, I feel stronger and more confident.

Leland Coleman, a Nashville, Tenn. resident believes his costume represents an evolution. Leland Coleman was inspired by the character Captain America in the past year, as he shed 45 pounds. Therefore, he created a Renaissance version of Captain America to honor the Marvel Comics character. He says the costume “gave him strength.” I feel that I’ve grown into it and become it.”

The cosplayers play with clothing’s subtle influence on us. Since the beginning of time, people have used clothes to control, seduce, and entertain. In some outfits, people not only look different but also feel differently. Psychologists are working to discover how clothes influence our cognitive abilities and the extent to which it affects us. Adam Galinsky, a psychologist from Columbia Business School, spoke with NPR’s Hanna Rosin for the podcast and show Invisibilia. Galinksy did a study where he required participants to wear a white coat. He informed some participants that they were wearing a painter’s smock and others that they were wearing a doctor’s coat.

Then he tested their focus and attention. Participants who believed they were wearing the doctor’s coat were more attentive and focused than those wearing the painter’s smock. The patients wearing the doctor’s coat were 50% more careful in a meticulous test. Galinksy believes that this happens because when people don the coat of a doctor, and begin to feel more like a doctor. “They see doctors as being extremely careful, meticulous,” Galinksy says. “The process is about symbolic connection. If you wear the outfit, it becomes what you’re.”

The majority of clothing that bears some kind of significance seems to create this effect, which is adapted to the particular item as an expression. One study discovered that fake sunglasses made by people were more likely to lie and deceive than genuine sunglasses. It was as if fakes gave them a bonus in slyness. “If the object has been imbued with some meaning, we pick it up, we activate it. We wear it, and then we take it off,” says Abraham Rutchick, a psychologist at California State University Northridge.

Rutchick discovered that people wearing formal clothes to job interviews tend to think more abstractly and focus more on the bigger picture than people wearing casual clothes. For example, those in formal attire would think that locking the door is more like securing a house, an abstract concept rather than turning a key, which is a mechanical action.

Rutchick believes that clothing has double effects. Rutchick states, “When I dress in the clothes I feel certain that manner.” Rutchick continues, “I also feel how others perceive me. That’s going to affect the way I act and feel about myself.”

The impact of this feedback is obvious in the cosplay convention environment, where attendees are quick to praise one another on costumes and take photos.

Riki LeCotey is a well-known cosplayer from Atlanta who goes by the stage name Riddle and says that the power she experiences in cosplay comes from both the costumes and the reactions of people. “Someone tells me, “You’re the perfect Black Cat” [a character from Spiderman. You’re thinking, ‘Oh they believe I’m sexy. The dress makes me feel very sexually attractive. Maybe I am sexy,’ ” she says.

LeCotey said that those feelings can last long after the convention. “You can remember the costume once you take off your costume. When you look through photos that remind you. If you repeat the same thing over and over, it just stays in your mind. It’s like muscle memory of sexuality.” LeCotey says that cosplaying made her feel more confident than when she was shy as a teenager 17 years ago.

In the most fundamental sense, LeCotey says “[cosplaying] is about embodying the characters you are passionate about.” In her case, this is choosing characters you identify with due to similarities in their background or a characteristic she is awestruck by. The results show that a quarter of the cosplayers agree with her. They pick their characters based on their psychological characteristics or the stories they tell, according to a survey published in The Journal of Cult Media.

Although clothes can be a conduit for these traits, however, it doesn’t need to be lavish. Jennifer Breedon, a Washington, D.C. AwesomeCon attendee says she woke up on the morning of and decided to dress in the Black Widow’s clothes. She’s wearing an all-leather jacket, combat boots, and black tights. It’s not Natasha Romanova’s leather catsuit, and there’s no S.H.I.E.L.D. patch to identify the Marvel Comics hero. It is effective for Breedon. “And this day, I am channeling that character, that person who feels that affinity for them.

It’s a less subtle type of cosplay that includes characters that are dressed in simple or casual outfits. “Even even if it’s hidden under the radar, and even if nobody is aware of it. I’m aware of it,” she says.

The outfits are often barely evident – for instance the grey hoodie jeans and boots of another Marvel Comics hero, Jessica Jones. Breeden says that the clothes were a great help to her in a difficult moment when she was lost and isolated.

Breedon, 32, said that she was feeling like a failure decade back. She battled an eating disorder, drug addiction, and a suicide attempt. Along the way, “I hurt a lot of people.” She claims that in the time following her rehab began, her health and life have been in danger. “Even today there’s an undercurrent regret and I’m forced to overcome it every single day.”

She graduated from law school and got employment. She announced her new job to all. Then, they fired her a few months later, saying she wasn’t the right fit. She began to feel depressed and was thinking, “I’ll never feel good enough.”

Three days in a row, Breedon says, she did not leave her home to watch Jessica Jones. In her hoodie of grey, she dressed exactly like Jessica. “I was forced to dress like Jessica,” she says. “The hoodie gave me purpose. Jessica Jones always says, “I don’t want to work for your law office or S.H.I.E.L.D. Or whatever. She was free to do whatever she wanted. This made me think about whether I was meant to work for that organization. I just felt at peace.”

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