Lately, it seems that when superhero costumes are mentioned in the news they’re associated with negative stories that involve crime, violence and mental illness. Apart from coverage of conventions, most of the media surrounding cosplay (AKA costume-play) is negative. Maybe reports carry a blaming tone, maybe degrading photos are shown, or maybe there’s an outright accusation that dressing in costume is a sign of threat.
I thought I’d mention some more positive elements of cosplay and simply establish on record that there is nothing inherently symptomatic, diagnostic, or pathological about cosplay. It is in no way single-handedly a sign of a larger problem, in no way an indication that someone is has, for instance, Asperger’s Syndrome, antisocial personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, or any other mental illness. There isn’t a single psychological “wrongness” or defect present when an adult wears costumes.
In fact, cosplayers represent such a diverse group of people that finding a single common factor is more difficult than one would think. I can’t find a commonality among cosplayers beyond the fact that they’re people dressed in costume; they’re female, male, young, old, straight, gay, large, small, tall. Nerds cosplay. Women cosplay. Professionals cosplay. Accountants cosplay. Athletes cosplay. Psychologists cosplay. Professional athletic nerdy women cosplay!
So, for the record, there is nothing psychologically wrong with it. It’s not a “warning sign.” And no one should feel threatened by it.
What are the healthy aspects of cosplay? A sense of community, of friendships spanning time and cities. Large groups of people– again, of all types– banding together to celebrate their craftmanship and hard work. People with a deep passion and a dedication to fandom, finally getting a chance to express themselves in ways that make them feel accepted and recognized. Cosplay could be an outlet, an escape to a universe that a person may not otherwise be able to participate in. In our everyday lives, do we feel out of place, uninvited, outcasted, or marginalized socially? Ironically, the act of adding costume and decoration can actually strip down those social differences or barriers.
Maybe cosplay offers a persona or identity that allows us to feel more like our real selves. Does it bring a sense of freedom or release? Does it allow us to safely explore emotions like pride, anger, terror, sensuality, ambition and strength as we display these other selves? At times, as superficial as it sounds, we simply want to feel beautiful.