From Ordinary to Extraordinary: How Cosplayers Unlock Superpowers with Costumes

“My name is Becki,” says a young woman in a convention center that has been transformed into a comic book market. She flips her hair into a strand of hair that is orange and begins to speak in a Scottish accent. “And today I am Merida from Brave.

Becki Turner is a 28-year-old woman from Waldorf, Maryland, and is currently attending AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C., along with thousands of other attendees 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. “I’m less shy when I’m in cosplay. I don’t have as much anxiety as when I’m just me, likesome social anxiety.”

She struts around in her green dress and is wearing her bow that is recurved. Her smile is contagious. “[Merida’san incredibly tough, fierce, and determined woman,” Turner says. Today, she’s equally strong and determined as she has ever been.

In the 1960s and 1970s, American science fiction conventions started to let people dress in the form of fantasy or science fiction characters. Cosplayers were the first to wear outfits that were inspired by Star Trek and Star Wars. But fashion has grown. Costumes are usually derived from anime, comic books, video games, movies, and TV shows. Imagine characters from even the smallest amount of popular science fiction or fantasy universe, and there’s probably been someone who’s masqueraded as the persona. Many subgroups of cosplay are special, such as the “bronies” which are men who dress up as My Little Pony ponies.

Cosplayers are people who dress as characters and attend conventions across the U.S., Europe, and Japan. This is where geeks get together and have fun and meet their science fiction and fantasy brethren. For cosplayers that involve sharing the thrill of changing themselves into something, or someone, else.

However, for many, it’s more than an easy game of dress-up. The costumes they choose are a way to show something that’s not usually visible. Ni’esha Wongus, from Glen Burnie, Md. is carrying a 6-foot foam gun and is dressed in an edgy pleather bodysuit. “I am Fortune from Metal Gear Solid 2,” she claims. “I consider myself an introvert. But once I got all the buckles and straps on, as well as the gun, and stood in front of the mirror for the first time? That was the moment I was in love with. Because of it, I feel stronger and more confident.

Leland Coleman, a Nashville, Tenn. resident believes his costume represents the transformation of. Captain America was a major inspiration to him over the past year, as he shed 45 pounds and stopped taking insulin. He created a Renaissance Marvel Comics version of Captain America. The costume “gave him strength.” I feel like I’ve grown into it and become it.”

They playfully invoke the subtle influence over us. The use of clothing has been used by people to seduce, subdue and entertain for millennia. In some outfits, people not only look different, but they feel differently. Psychologists are trying to determine the ways that clothes impact our perception and how much. Adam Galinsky, the psychologist at Columbia Business School, spoke with NPR’s Hanna Rosin for the podcast and show Invisibilia. Galinksy did a study in which he asked participants to put on a white coat. He explained to some participants that they were wearing painter’s smocks and some were wearing doctor’s coats.

Then he examined their focus and concentration. People who believed they were wearing the coat of the doctor were more focused and attentive as compared to those who were wearing the painter’s smock. On a detail-oriented test, the doctor’s coat-wearing participants made 50 percent fewer errors. Galinksy believes this is because people feel more doctor-like when they don doctor’s coats. Galinksy claims that doctors are seen as attentive, precise, and meticulous. The process is symbolic. When you put on the clothes and put it on, you become who you are.”

Nearly every attire that has an important meaning seems to have this effect, tailored to the article as an expression. According to the case of one study that was conducted, those wearing fake sunglasses were more likely to lie and cheat than people wearing genuine brands, as if fakes gave the wearers a plus to cunning. “If the object is given significance when we take it home, we activate it. We wear it, and we wear it,” says Abraham Rutchick who is a psychologist who works at California State University Northridge.

Rutchick has found that people wearing formal clothes to interview have a more abstract view and focus more on the bigger image than people who wear casual clothing. For instance, people in formal clothing would say that locking the door is more like locking a house, an abstract concept rather than turning a key, which is a mechanical action.

The effect from clothing is likely to be twofold, Rutchick says. Rutchick states, “When I dress in the clothes I feel certain that way.” And, he adds, “I [also] feel what people think of me, which is likely to alter my behavior and the way I think about myself.”

The effect of that feedback is apparent in the cosplay crowd, where people rush to compliment one another on their costumes and snap photos.

Riki LeCotey known as a well-known and well-loved cosplayer from Atlanta who is known by the stage name Riddle she says the power she finds in cosplay stems both from the costumes and the people’s reactions. “Someone says”You’re the perfect Black Cat [a character from Spiderman]. You’re thinking “Oh they think that I’m sexually attractive.” The outfit makes me feel very sexy. Perhaps I’m sexy,’ ” she says.

LeCotey noted that these feelings can last long after the con. “You sort of recall the costume when you take off your costume. You may also go through images and feel a sense of remembrance. If you repeat the same thing over and over, it just stays with you. It’s like a memory of sexuality.” LeCotey believes that cosplay has helped her become far more confident than she was as a shy teenager years ago when she began.

In the most fundamental sense, LeCotey states that “[cosplaying is about embodying the characters you are passionate about.” This for her is choosing characters she identifies with because of the same history or an attribute that she is awestruck by. The results show that a quarter of the cosplayers agree with her. They select their characters based on their psychological characteristics or their stories, according to a survey in The Journal of Cult Media.

The clothes serve as a channel to these characteristics but it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Jennifer Breedon, a Washington, D.C. AwesomeCon attendee said that she woke up on the morning of and decided to dress in Black Widow’s clothing. She’s wearing an all-leather jacket, combat boots as well as 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. However, it does work for Breedon. “And this moment I’m channeling the character, that person, that portion of me has that affinity with them.”

She refers to it as a subtler cosplay. She chooses characters that tend to wear simpler or casual clothes. It’s not easy to spot however, it’s there. I’m sure of what it is,” she says.

It’s often hard to spot the costumes such as Jessica Jones’s grey hoodie and jeans as well as her boots which are all part of Marvel Comics. However, Breeden claims that in the most difficult moment in her life, when she felt alone and defeated, the clothing helped her gain the courage to keep moving forward.

Breedon, 32, said that she was feeling like a failure decade back. Breedon struggled with an eating disorder, drug abuse, and one suicide attempt. In the process, “I hurt a lot of people.” She claims that in the time since rehab, her life and health have been in danger. “Even now, I feel an undercurrent shame and I need to deal with it every single day.”

She finished law school and got an internship. She shared the news with all. She was fired within a couple of months saying that it wasn’t the right match. She began to feel depressed and was thinking, “I’ll never feel good enough.”

Three days in a row, Breedon says, she sat alone in her apartment watching Jessica Jones. In her grey hoodie, she dressed exactly like Jessica. “I had to be Jessica,” she says. “The Hoodie gave me a purpose. Jessica Jones always says, “I do not want to work in your law firm or S.H.I.E.L.D. Or whatever. She was free to do whatever she wanted. This made me think “Maybe I’m not destined to work for this company.’ I just felt at peace.”

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