Cosplay and Self-Identity: From Charmed to Sailor Moon

I had an overactive imagination as a child. Playing tag or hide & seek was boring to me. I needed something more; mountains to climb, adventures to embark on, treasures to find. To achieve these goals (because, trust me, there are no mountains in New Brunswick), I personified fictional characters and the worlds they lived in.

There was something exhilarating about pretending to be someone else as a child. As I got older, the characters began to change into brunettes, with brown eyes. The characters I preferred to personify looked like me the most. It no longer mattered what the adventures were; what mattered is that I wanted to look like them. Not only “look like”; I wanted to emulate them. While watching these shows, I longed to spot some character traits that mirrored mine. I enjoyed when Sailor Jupiter cooked, because I loved cooking. Phoebe Halliwell, from Charmed, majored in Psychology and that inspired me to follow through with that career path (yes, I chose my major at 11 years old). Something else that these characters featured that others didn’t: the Girl Power aspect. Both Sailor Jupiter and Phoebe are part of a sisterhood that fight evil and big bads, together.

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These initial forays into character profiling have shaped, or rather affected, some of my own character traits. I try to be as much of a dreamer as Anne of Green Gables, fearless like Zia from the Mysterious Cities of Gold, self-sufficient like Sailor Jupiter and playful like Phoebe. Psychology and I aren’t on the friendliest terms (a story for another article), but I do think Albert Bandura got it right when he said that we learn “through imitation and copying”. In the “Bobo Doll Experiment”, Bandura wanted to explore the relationship between violence on television and violent behaviors in children. However, the pendulum swings the other way too, in that positive characters can act as role models. There  are many scientific papers about this very subject. These characters gave me possibilities in a world that I thought was very narrow. For example, I don’t have any sisters. But watching Phoebe interact with hers showed me what that could be like. By show and tell, writers and performers get to make us feel and react to hypothetical situations, situations we may never face in our lives.

My roleplaying has impacted the way I pick my favorite shows. For a show to be on my radar, it needs to feature strong female friendships, in which girls are bound by mutual respect, love and history. I want this to be reflected in what I watch. Lost Girl is a perfect example of two female characters who share a profound bond but can stand independently on their own.

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My period of identification, however, has come to an end. It feels natural, like I passed this stage in order to embark on another. Now, as much as I love my TV characters, I don’t feel attached to them like I did when I was younger. This helps me view episodes more critically, because I don’t have much emotional involvement towards specific characters. I guess that’s why I don’t cosplay at conventions and the like; since I don’t identify with specific characters, I don’t really feel like embodying them for the day. However, I do understand the appeal of escapism and adventure that cosplaying brings. My friend Anika cosplayed as Sailor Saturn for New York Comic Con in 2012, and she had this to say about connecting with the character:

“Portraying the pale, petite, haunted, and hopeful Sailor Saturn was easy because I understood her and I connected to her. My husband made me a perfect costume. I felt beautiful, I felt powerful, and I felt fearless.”

I may not cosplay, but my experience as a kid helps me understand the allure of losing oneself in someone else’s life for a few moments. My past experiences will remain what they are: a nostalgic part of what made me a quirky kid. They somehow shaped who I am, and who I hope to become.

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About Gabby Ross

I write about what I live. This includes previous jobs, boring details, passions and television. Lots and lots of TV. I enjoy live-tweeting episodes of sci-fi/fantasy series (and the occasional football show) @GloryisBen.

4 comments

  1. Gabby: I really enjoyed this piece. It got me thinking about, not only how we relate to fictional characters, but also how we perform roles in order to achieve certain “character traits”. Do I like Veronica Mars because she is a strong and loyal woman, or because those are attributes that I would like to find within myself?

    • Thanks Kellie! :)
      I definitely do think that the media we consume affects us, sometimes more deeply than we give it credit for. In any case, aspiring to be a strong and loyal woman can only amount to a good thing.

  2. Mélanie Durepos

    Great article Gab!

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