Cosplay has always been an on and off hobby for me for the past few years, I believe I started doing it sometime around 2012. Around that time, I was not very skilled at sewing (still not very good, but I get by) and so I would purchase costumes online to wear them around conventions.
My first ‘serious’ cosplay was Himiko Kudo from the anime The Get Backers, she was a brown character in the show so naturally I thought, “Hey, I could be her!” and gave cosplay a try. I found the costume online, bought whatever extra props I needed, and wore it at my first convention, Akon 23. That was the first time I had ever been stopped to take photos. A lot of the comments I got (if any) were, “Wow. You look just like her!” or “You make the perfect Himiko!” which I appreciated, since it was my first time actually dressing up.
My costume was perceived very well, and it inspired me to want continue cosplaying even more in the future–and so I did. Each time I would think of a character to cosplay, the thought process would go:
“What character can I pull off next?”
“Who is a brown character in an anime that I could cosplay?”
The issue was that I was constantly thinking about what brown anime characters to cosplay, rather than just thinking simply of which of my favorite characters I wanted to cosplay. Being a black nerd, you start to notice little things…like the fact that there are hardly any black/brown characters in Japanese animation, video games, TV shows, etc. they are just barely visible, and it’s disheartening. You really have to dig DEEP to be able to find a brown character. So a lot of times, I would simply just re-wear my Himiko costume, until I could find a new brown character to dress as. That is when I discovered the anime Bleach, and fell in love with the character Yoruichi. I was on a Bleach high for a couple of years until the series ended (yes I know I was late to the anime), and all the time that I watched it, I knew I had to be Yoruichi. And If I wasn’t going to be Yoruichi, I was going to cosplay one of the other brown girls on the show. So, I finally gathered the money I needed, and commissioned another cosplay.
I finally settled on cosplaying as the dark skin cat woman, Yoruichi Shihouin and guess what? I looked pretty damn good. So of course, when I debut it at my next couple of cons, I got the same compliments over and over. “Oh my God, you are my canon Yoruichi!”, “You make the perfect Yoruichi!”. A lot of photos were taken, and again, it was the excitement for my cosplay that made me want to do it again, and again. So that led me back to that same obvious question: What other brown character could I cosplay next?
I wanted to keep hearing the same compliments over and over. I wanted to have people continue to praise me and the costume I was in. And so, guess what popular female brown character I chose to be next? Well, none other than Korra from The Legend of Korra (around this time, I actually started sewing my own costumes). This costume was especially important to me mainly because it was the first cosplay I had ever actually sewn and put together all on my own. Korra was perfect for me. She was tall, fierce and of course…you guessed it…brown. So I HAD to be Korra.
Again, it was a great costume. I received the same compliments over and over, as I would cosplaying as any other brown character. From then on I continued sewing costumes all on my own. I ended up cosplaying as Michiko Malandro from Michiko to Hatchin (an Afro-Latina vixen; also brown) and the infamous Aisha Clan Clan from Outlaw Star (are you sensing a pattern here?). I felt like nailed both characters, and it was great…but I noticed I started running out of characters to dress up as. I didn’t want to keep dressing up as Bleach characters or characters from The Legend of Korra. I would reuse all the costumes I had over and over until I saw a new brown character that inspired me enough to cosplay as her, and that did not happen for a long while. Conventions went by, and I swear I had been Korra and Yoruichi for at least over 6 conventions now (had I really been to that many?) The hype for Bleach had died down, so I didn’t see a lot of Bleach cosplayers anymore, and Korra was just ending, so the hype for Korra cosplay was going down as well. As the hype went down, so did my drive to cosplay. What was once I fun exciting hobby quickly turned boring for me. The problem was I was limiting myself to just brown characters, when, as I mentioned earlier, THERE ARE HARDLY ANY IN ANYTHING THAT I WATCH AND OR PLAY.
So WHY was I just limiting myself to just cosplaying brown characters, you ask? Because I didn’t feel comfortable cosplaying as a character outside of my skin tone. That was it. I was so stuck on matching a character 100%, that I did not dare to cosplay any character that did not look like me. No matter how many times I saw my friends cosplay outside their skin color, I still would not do it. Not to mention the fact that I had seen the type of nasty comments that black people or other people of color get when they cosplay outside their skin color (If you haven’t seen my Shades of Cosplay documentary, you might want to take a look). I really was not about to have someone call me outside my name just because I chose to cosplay a character outside of my skin tone and did not want to have the problem of not being able to find a good photographer because I was black.
One day, things turned around. My friends had the idea to do an outer senshi cosplay from Sailor Moon. They wanted to include me and have me be Uranus. Sailor Uranus. Now, she is hands down the most bad ass sailor scout, but Sailor Uranus? I couldn’t pull that off. Sure, I was tall, but just imagining that blonde wig going with my skin tone….it was not a pretty site. I mostly cosplayed as dark haired characters, so any color that was not either brown or purple, frightened me. I honestly wanted to say no, but the reason I did not was because 1) I don’t like being left out of things, and 2) They were so set on me being Uranus, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. Besides, my friend had already made a fantastic Sailor Neptune, and I wanted to be able to compliment her so, I swallowed up my fears, and just did it. We worked on our sailor scout costumes for a month or so and it finally came time to debut the costumes at Anime Matsuri…and…damn….
We looked SO good. In fact, the only complaint I had about wearing this costume was having to strut around in those heeled boots for a long period of time. Our whole Sailor Squad was on point 100%! I was super scared about wearing that blonde wig, but it ended up growing on me. I was Sailor Uranus. And you literally could not tell me anything. It was an amazing feeling to be able to cosplay a character that didn’t necessarily look like me. I was so hard on myself at the beginning about cosplaying only brown characters, that this hobby ended up not being fun for me anymore. Now, I don’t care. These days, if I have room to fit cosplay into my busy schedule, I am looking to cosplay all different types of characters (I have my eye on Bulma from Dragonball!). Cosplay quickly became for me less about being accurate and more about having fun.
If you are having second thoughts about cosplay a character outside of your skin tone, I hope my story helps you in some way. Just go and do it. Cosplaying is not about being accurate, it’s not about race, skin tone or anything. It’s about having fun. I can’t stress that enough. I’m more excited to continue cosplaying now than I was when I first started!
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