Whether you’re brand new to the hobby of Cosplay or a long time veteran, you’ve likely noticed that continually being a “Happy Cosplayer” can almost seem fleeting at times. Like many “high-demand” pastimes, Cosplay runs into a different issue than most other passive hobbies in that it requires quite a lot from those involved, so much so that it can feel at times that one’s own control over the hobby is slipping out of their hands. In that regard, it can feel as though our activity doing the hobby takes priority to our actual enjoyment of them.
Cosplayers face the constant balancing act of figuring how to do said hobby in a way that doesn’t tear them apart in one way or another, whether that be from work, family, social life, other hobbies, or even health. Tell me if any of these sound familiar:
“This needs to be done in time!”
“Five more minutes.”
“Maybe, it’s a lot of money…”
“I can’t believe I procrastinated.”
“Might have burned my fingers off, but it was worth it.”
“I just need some caffeine and I’ll be fine.”
“Give me that one dollar water!!” (long time Otakon attendees will get this one).
If you’ve cosplayed before, than probably, yes, these are familiar. Well, contrary to popular belief, none of these problems have to be ‘normal’ for a cosplayer. With ten years of cosplay experience now under my belt (holy crud, that’s weird to think about) along with having witnessed numerous occasions of these problems occurring (for both myself and others), I’d like to share what I’ve learned and used in order to avoid these problems and yes, even take back full control over them in order to actually be happy as you go about doing this hobby we call Cosplay. You’ll likely notice one key theme in all of them, but we’ll discuss that at the end. For now, let’s dive right in, shall we?
1. Choose costumes based off of who you want to cosplay as – NOT costumes other people want you to cosplay.
I like this one because I believe it’s the starting point of taking back control over this hobby. It probably makes the biggest difference in terms of the experiences a cosplayer may have as they do their hobby. Why? Simply put, it brings us back to the whole reason we started this hobby in the first place as it puts our interests first. I mean, we signed up for this (and continued to do so) because there was a character we were interested in dressing up as, not solely because of someone else (most likely anyway).
Think about how the dynamic of changing why you’re cosplaying someone can change your experience. If I have no interest in or attachment to a character, then how could I conclude that I would ultimately, without doubt, 100% have fun portraying that character while in cosplay? The answer is: I couldn’t.
Now this isn’t to say that I couldn’t have fun just dressing up in a random outfit. Of course, I could. It’s also not to say that I couldn’t have fun if I didn’t know a character, but decided to dress up as the character for a friend. I could. But the key is that I have to want to do it.
The moment that you start dressing up or making things because other people want you to and you have no interest in doing so, you’re heading for trouble. You’re going to get angry and frustrated. You’ll start asking questions like “Why am I wasting my money on this?” or “If they want this, why don’t they make it?” or “Why do I get the difficult task?” or worse, “Is my friendship with this person really worth all of this?” In this regard, not only is your cosplaying experience at risk, your friendships will be put in jeopardy as well.
So start to take back control and make things because you actually want to make them. Be upfront about this with others. Stand firm on the point that you will only make something because you want to. And finally, be sure to keep an eye on your motives as if your motives start to be to please others, you’ll end up almost never pleasing (or being kind to) yourself.
2. Mistakes happen – Learn from them and don’t dwell on them!
I admittedly have to fight myself to do this. I’m a perfectionist. If something doesn’t turn out right, I get very frustrated and tend to focus on the error. There have been times where I’ve accidentally dropped a hot glue gun on a piece of already sewn fabric and have wanted to scream in annoyance at myself. There have also been times where I’ve burned myself or injured myself accidentally and then had to continue while constantly looking at the bandage or flinching when I do something with my hands.
But you know what? By making these mistakes, I can practically guarantee that I won’t be intentionally making them again. I’m not about to cause myself any more pain in this process than need be (and let’s be real, there definitely can be some ‘pain’ when making a cosplay). But hey, now I know how to avoid some of that, so you know what? I’m going to take that knowledge and use it!
At the end of a cosplay production process, yes, even after 10 years, I notice things that I still don’t like. But I’ve most definitely learned something and tried something new. Next time, I can do better. And for this time, I can put on this outfit and have fun right here and right now, being proud of how well I did this time with the limited knowledge I had prior to starting.
However, if I were to dwell on the errors while I wear my costumes, I’d never have any fun. If I were to dwell on the errors even after I’ve done everything to fix them, I’d grow to hate my costumes. It just ruins the experience and the whole reason why we make these costumes. So realize that you’re human. Realize that it’s a costume, a thing, and not something that’s going to destroy the rest of your life if it’s not perfect. And realize that mistakes are how you learn so that you can do better next time. So as Ms. Frizzle always said “Take chances, Make mistakes!” After all, there’s no better time than to do so right now as you try to bring the physically impossible to life.
When you do so, when you take back your mindset on mistakes, you not only change the outcome, but also your perspective and thus your emotional attitude towards what you’re working on. You go from being pessimistic and down on yourself and outcomes to being hopeful and excited about new things, new experiences, and new challenges. Mistakes are never fun, but if your attitude towards them is that of you’re going to make the best of them, you take control of how it will affect your whole cosplay experience (not to mention your mental health)!
3. Schedules get so messed up at cons. Don’t let it ruin your time while cosplaying!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people (myself included) fall victim to this. It starts by deciding to go to a group meeting for a specific series and you get super excited and hyped because hey, there’s tons of people there who are dressed from the same series. You’ve found your people! You exchange numbers, friend each other on Facebook and then… you do it again. And again. And again. And again. Pretty soon, you’ve made tons of friends! Alright, what’s the problem with that?
There is no problem with that. The problem comes when you start to become obsessed with the idea of seeing everyone while all in specific costumes in an unrealistic amount of short time on essentially VACATION time that is extremely fluid and prone to delay. Think about it – if you plan say 4 outfits in one day (it happens – I’ve planned 7 and succeeded, so take that doubters) and you have have exactly from 1:00 to 2:00 to do your photoshoot so that you have enough time to change to be at Point A by X time, imagine how upset you’re going to be when your friend shows at 1:50 for your crazy running around antics that were supposed to be for an hour. Seriously, you now have ten minutes.
You planned meticulously. You spent time and money and a lot of blood when making that costume (don’t deny it, we’ve all pricked our fingers on the spinning wheels). But now there’s no time and you have to change. You’re going to be upset and be inclined to blame them for the lack of time. And guess what, they’re going to be upset too! Because from their perspective, they’ve likely spent time and money and planned meticulously and they can’t control when there’s a delay that they haven’t planned for. And then you, their friend, can’t just delay things for a little bit? At the end, you’re both going to be upset with one another. Fun won’t happen. Tears will, along with anger and frustration.
So do yourself a favor – do not get your hopes up on doing things with other people, particularly during a heavily scheduled fixed time frame. Yes, it’s fun and when it can happen, that’s great! But just because something doesn’t work out that likely neither you nor your friends can control, don’t let that get you down. Your joy should come from wearing the costume yourself and seeing friends, not having a prop group to go with your costume. Instead, plan to ‘see friends’ and cosplay together ‘if it works out’.
In short, take a step back and remember that cons are supposed to be fun and that you’re really there to see friends, not other characters. If a friend doesn’t see it the same way, than truth time: they’re not your friend. So just try to see each other and plan it as time to ‘hang out’ and photoshoot if it’s possible. If it happens, great! But if not, you’ll catch them next time – it might even give you both a break. When you make your priority friendship, you take control of the very reason you are going to an event.
PS. So how do you ensure that you can do a photoshoot with someone if not at a con? Plan for it to happen outside of a con! If you really want to do it, you’ll make it happen. I promise. And just saying, the results are WAY better off-site from a con. 😉
4. Take your time in constructing costumes – Don’t set strict deadlines.
Back when I first started cosplaying, I decided to make two huge costumes in one summer with the goal of having them ready for a convention that August. That was a mistake. But guess what, I learned from that mistake (eventually, haha…. OTL Don’t take so long to learn this one like me). 😉 That mistake was that I set a rather unrealistic deadline. During that summer, I pushed myself so hard that I stayed up late, forgot to eat, kept having to return to the craft store because I’d forgotten or ruined something – there were even points where I was shaking I was so tired and undernourished.
As I said though, it took me a while to learn from this mistake. Why? Because I got under the spell of the illusion that it was all worth it when I rolled out that costume and “everyone loved it”. Sure, people were impressed or greatly enjoyed it. But you know what? Those costumes in the long run suffered. I would end up going back and trying to fix those costumes later. Or even the days of wear, they would be difficult to move in or have problems (making my experience less enjoyable).
Those issues don’t even begin to touch on the fact that “HELLO”, I was physically shaking!!! There is nothing in the world that you should put above your physical health. Your body is a precious gift. It is what allows you to live, to breathe, and to experience life to the fullest. No matter what you’re doing, if you’re pushing your body to the point that it is becoming unhealthy, what you’re doing is not worth it.
So remember, pace yourself. Take care of yourself. Take the actual time you need to create something you truly will enjoy. Don’t wait until the last minute to work on something. Realize that the end result will be much better if you don’t set yourself a strict, unrealistic deadline (in other words, don’t simply agree to something because someone begs you, your impulses included, to do it at the last minute). Even if you don’t finish it in time, guess what? There will always be another convention or event to wear your costume at. People and groups can wait – there’s always a next time. There’s only one you though. And you and your time (and your money by the way!) are far more valuable than a hastily thrown together costume costing you tears.
5. Before the con, don’t rigidly plan your schedule solely to please others.
This is similar to the 3rd point I mentioned in which we can take back control over this hobby, but it’s still separate as it comes up before your convention even starts. So let’s start with this truth:
If you try to make everyone happy, you’ll only end up making yourself unhappy.
We’ve all heard this and somehow, it gets thrown to the side all too often when it comes to cosplaying with friends. Whether it’s when you’re trying to balance your schedule so that you can see multiple people in a day (see the above for the likely results of that) or you’re trying to find a time to do a group cosplay with someone and they’re being unreasonably rigid it seems, we all have fallen victim to the hair-tearing notion of trying to please everyone with your convention schedule.
Cosplay is great in that it allows for friendships to quickly be made and built out of a love for a series or story. However, you shouldn’t be bending to the whims of others because they wanted to do Outfit A during X time and you’ve already got plans. The answer is “Oh well, that’s a shame – let’s do something next time!” Repeat it with me. Why? Because once you bend for one person, you’re inevitably going to bend for everyone. And you’re already bending over by making a costume that’s physically impossible to make.
But why can’t we always ‘bend’? Isn’t that how we show kindness to others? Sure, it is. But it’s also not unkind to say “Oh, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work out; let’s try for next time!” By not saying that when appropriate or when it makes the most sense, you’re going to doom yourself to anxiety, worry, and frustration all before the convention even happens. Not to mention you’re going to annoy those you’ve already made plans with. It’s disappointing sometimes, sure, but again, there’s always a “next time” – one you can start planning for now so that you make sure you can do it in the future!
Furthermore, bending during the convention itself is going to have you running around trying to do it all when let’s be real, you probably can’t. No one can. Things do get messed up (as mentioned before). And if they get messed up, people will be upset with you because you ‘committed’ to something. If they’re upset, you’ll be upset, and that equals no fun.
So instead of trying to please everyone, remember that this is your vacation and you deserve to spend your time, money, and energy making yourself feel happy by doing what you love to do – by cosplaying and having fun as time will allow! Avoid over-scheduling yourself in a pretzel of an agenda and putting yourself in situations where you’re going to be stressed and very possibly be disappointing someone else. In short: make your plans as they will allow for you and no one else.
Keeping in mind the goal of fitting things in with an appropriate amount of time and giving yourself buffer zones in your schedule will save you a lot of hassle come con time. Like I said above, if it works out that you can see people, that’s great! But don’t bend over backwards making your vacation turn into work and your vacation planning into an anxiety attack. No one deserves that and nothing is worth that. So take a moment and take back your breathing space in your schedule. You’re not obligated to give that away, so don’t feel like you have to.
PS. If you’ve been planning something for a year and you want to be positive it happens, make sure that’s the first thing you plan – and monitor that your long time plans don’t all converge on the same event (split them up as best you can!). Divide and Conquer and Prioritize – that way you’ll be assured that what it really important to you will indeed happen. 😉
Though much more demanding than other hobbies, Cosplay is still something we can all do happily if we strike the right balance, set good priorities, and properly delegate our time. You might have noticed the theme as you were reading along, but in case you missed it, here it is:
When we remember to give ourselves an adequate amount of time for activities, recognize our limitations, and forgive and accept ourselves for what we can and cannot do, we take back control of a hobby that can often lead to sorrow and disappointment when we attempt to “do it all” all at once. In this way, we replace stress for fun, and anxiety to anticipation. Essentially, to make this hobby enjoyable, remember, you’re doing this hobby FOR YOU.
So to summarize:
Choose costumes based off of who you want to cosplay as – NOT costumes other people want you to cosplay.
Mistakes happen – Learn from them and don’t dwell on them!
Schedules get so messed up at cons. Don’t let it ruin your time while cosplaying!
Take your time in constructing costumes – Don’t set strict deadlines.
Before the con, don’t rigidly plan your schedule solely to please others.
If I listed any habits in the sections above that you recognize in yourself, I highly encourage you to do your best to break free of them. It’s not easy, but you will be happier for it in the long run. Additionally, you’ll be treating yourself better. And you know what? YOU DESERVE THAT!! You deserve to be happy and enjoy something that should be fun. Take baby steps if need be. Work on one thing at a time. It can feel selfish (trust me, I know), but it’s not. It’s taking care of yourself and if people can’t understand that even when you try your best to be accommodating and reasonable, then you don’t need that pressure in your life.
Remember that this hobby is what you make of it. That doesn’t just mean what costumes you make either. It means all of the experiences that come with it. So take back some control over this hobby (one that is prone to running our lives for us) and realize that you can have better experiences when you put your own goals first and by extension, your own happiness as well.