This news piece covers a panel from Momocon 2018, an event that ran from May 24-27. Momocon is a convention for anime, gaming, comics and animation fans held in Atlanta, Georgia every year. This content mentions mental health, body image, suicide prevention & other vital resources.
There’s a very enthusiastically upset man standing next to me. It’s 5:20 p.m. and we’re waiting outside of panel room 406. Which panel is happening here again?
It has to be the Fate / Grand Order panel, he insists. He’s making friends with fellow Momocon 2018 attendees, who appear similarly shaken by the room mix-up, yet happy to converse with fellow Fate Fanatics.
But I’m happier to hear that the Hemming and Health Self Care/Cosplay panel, and not a Fate history lesson, is about to start. As the Fate group switches rooms in a begrudgingly eager manner, I enter room 406 with my boyfriend and friends in tow.
“Cosplay is a physical manifestation of my mental illness,” says Bear.
Cosplaying is the practice of dressing up as a character from a show, book, game, and/or most recognizably from Japanese manga or anime. Bear has been cosplaying for over 20 years. She’s here today, at Momocon 2018 in Atlanta, GA to celebrate anime/manga, gaming, comics, costuming+ and of course, feature in this panel with us.
Bear is currently on a social media break for her own mental well-being. She shares how skipping out on conventions and events last-minute has been essential to her health in the past.
“Sometimes, even just sitting here is more than I can manage…
At some point [this morning] I was trying to get dressed and I found myself in the closet sobbing, saying, ‘I have to show up.'” The other panel members and audience are receptive.
“That’s a really brave attitude to take,” says Dr. B. Dr. B is the coordinator of the Hemming and Health Self Care/Cosplay panel. He’s also a Clinical Director at TakeThis, Inc.
TakeThis, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that aims to inform, educate, and support the video game community and beyond on mental health issues. They also host “AFK rooms” at multiple conventions, offering a safe, quiet space, run by volunteers and clinicians, for any con-goer who needs a place to regain their calm. TakeThis Inc. and the AFK room are here at Momocon 2018, and have been constant attendees since 2016. I make a mental note to go there next.
Dr. B’s self-defined lack in cosplay knowledge is easily forgotten in his precision of speech. He not only wraps up his panelists’ stories into neat, digestible takeaways, but genuinely responds to their shared struggles. His confidence in them is palpable.
“Making the choice to say, ‘I’m good. I’m fine.’ That’s amazing, to know one’s limits like that,” he says.
The other panelists nod.
Bear is truly not alone in her cosplay and convention-attending challenges. Aleathia Burns, an independent cosplayer of over 16 years, shares her experience dealing with judgmental cosplayers and con-goers.
“Back in the day, people say there weren’t a lot of people of color cosplaying,” she says.
She describes online discussions and arguments among POC cosplayers, where members debated over whether or not POC should cosplay characters of differing skin color.
“But you know what? If I like her outfit, I’m going to wear it,” says Aleathia.
Jennifer Barclay, an Associate Creative Director in the “real world” and equally serious cosplayer, jumps in.
“I don’t look like a high school girl. But I’m going to dress like one!”
And the room laughs warmly. Jennifer shares how cosplay for her has transitioned from a hobby her younger self would hide, to a greatly influential skill that is even recognized in her professional industry.
“What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time?” Dr. B asks.
“Buy Apple stock,” says Jennifer, and the whole room laughs again.
“But really,” she continues,
“If [only] I had known I’d be in a business meeting, showing people pictures of me in cartoon costumes, and having adults say, ‘That’s amazing!'”
The other panelists ponder the #throwback question, too.
“Work harder,” is Bear’s response. “Get good, scrub,”
With that, even the non-cosplaying audience members (my friends included), are cracking up and visibly warming to the panelists.
Rachel Maurer, a “closet” cosplayer who prefers purchasing and coordinating costumes over creating from scratch, remembers when her younger self wanted to quit the craft.
“I realized I’m the type where if I’m not good at it, I’ll stop,” she says. “I figured out I don’t like sewing, so I dropped it all.” Rachel’s story echoes popular experiences of closet cosplayers now. There’s a generally popular, sour attitude against closet cosplayers even today, suggesting a cosplayer’s worth has a direct relationship to how much of a costume they create from scratch.
“But I could have found parts [for the costume] like I’m doing now…it took me years of not doing it to come back to that realization.”
Recently, the popular cosplayers whose panels I’ve attended, or whom I’ve interacted with recently, like Rachel, have preached being kind and accepting to every kind of cosplayer in the community.
And I’m feeling content and comfortable in my store-bought getup, styled after the Japanese role playing game Persona 5.
“Do you have any advice concerning body image and cosplay?” asks Dr. B, as a loaded, final question.
“If you like a character, do it,” says Aleathia. “Also, I love plus-size cosplayers. Because they have some mad skills.”
“It helps to surround yourself with people who will be honest with me,” says Jennifer. “If they say I look good, I put value in it…Find those few true people and use those key people to get yourself out there.”
“All I can think of is try to move more, keep your muscles moving, and try to deal with it in a good way,” says Bear. “A healthy way…good luck.”
“Bring a group of friends you trust,” says Rachel.
Dr. B summarizes their advice into 3 points: find friends you trust to be real with you; figure out your true reason for cosplaying and remember it; and if you’re unhappy, try to change that in a healthy way.
“Is there anything I missed?” asks Dr. B.
“Finish your seams,” says Aleathia, scoring a room-full of laughs.
With a enthusiastic thank you to the panelists, Dr. B leads the room into a closing “plug” for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a great service…with more than suicide prevention resources,” he explains.
With services expanding way beyond suicidal crisis support, into areas of emotional distress and counseling, he urges us to call 1-800-273-8255 if an appropriate situation arises. There’s also a Crisis Text Line available at 741-741: a great relief to those who prefer text speech.
I tell my boyfriend and friends to head to the AMV Iron Editor event ahead of me. With maybe a bit too much pep in my step, I greet Aleathia and Dr. B at the front of the panel room. With Aleathia’s business card in hand and Dr. B’s directions to the AFK room in my head: “Don’t be shocked by the silence! It’s wonderful,” I’m off to Room 310.
The silence of the AFK is remarkable and surprising.
The single step I take transports me from a loud, busy, cosplay-cramped hallway into a quiet, almost sound-proof calm. I settle down at an empty table and mindlessly fill in a coloring book. Occasionally, a loud con-goer or two will burst into the room and just as quickly dash back out. A few shaking heads and quiet laughs later, and the calm demeanor returns to the room.
Yeah. I could stay here forever.