Happy New York Comic Con! As native New Yorkers and out-of-towners alike gather at Javits Center for a weekend of geekery, we had a chance to chat with Sharon Rose, a professional cosplay model who has been featured on numerous geek culture media sites, including Geeks Are Sexy and Marvel.com.
Sharon is a vocal advocate for cosplay inclusivity and body positivity, something the industry has lacked in the past. Check out our interview below to learn how Sharon deals with haters and her advice for amateur cosplayers!
NEDA: What inspired you to start cosplaying?
Sharon Rose: I started cosplaying several years ago during a difficult time in my life. I have been an artist and creative person since childhood, but after college I found myself stuck in the rut of an uncreative job, and I just kind of…stopped painting, stopped creating, and stopped making art. I didn’t even realize at the time how detrimental this was to my mental health. In addition to this, I had recently been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and I was trying to process the fact that due to my condition, I may never be able to carry a child. I was trying to come to grips with a body that felt like it had betrayed me; I was wrestling with acne, hirsutism (I am a bearded lady), weight gain, constant fatigue, and more. I was confused and depressed. I felt like I had lost my identity as an artist and as a woman.
I looked to the escape and strength of characters in books, comics, and movies, and I decided to make a cosplay to attend a comics convention with my friends. Working with my hands for hours on end late at night, buried under piles of foam and paint and hot glue, let me cathartically process everything that was happening to me health-wise. Learning cosplay makeup techniques helped me learn how to cover my five o’clock shadow and feel feminine and beautiful again.
My first major armor build was Captain America, and when I put it on, I walked differently. I held my head high. I felt confident and powerful and strong. From that day forward, cosplay helped me learn how to truly accept and love my body, with the acne and beard and lumps and bumps and all. Cosplay helped me reclaim my inner artist—now, my body is my canvas, and my armor, garments, and makeup are my art. Cosplay literally transformed, and saved, my life.
NEDA: What is the most rewarding part of being a cosplayer?
SR: With every cosplay I create, I push myself to try a new technique, work with a new material, and push myself out of my comfort zone. It’s been incredibly rewarding to grow as an artist and be able to do things now that I couldn’t do a year ago. It’s amazing to use these skills to inspire others to create! Some of my most rewarding moments are meeting people at conventions who tell me that advice I provided (about foamcrafting or body confidence) helped them make and wear the costume they are in. Those moments are so special to me!
I love engaging with children in character. I volunteer with a nonprofit, the Central PA Avengers, and while it is fun to be in costume at a convention, it is life-changing to “be” Elsa for a little girl battling health issues in the hospital. It’s humbling to realize that, to those kids, you ARE their favorite superhero or princess, and that magic is very real, even if just for an afternoon. It inspires me to work on my acting skills and it reminds me just how powerful cosplay can be. If we choose to, we can use our capes and tights for good.
NEDA: How do you deal with the hate and related difficulty of being a cosplayer?
SR: Generally speaking, I feel blessed that I have such encouraging followers on social media. I think I have had positive and kind interactions with people who comment on my pages and I am very grateful for this. However, I have received my fair share of body-shaming comments usually when my work is shared on other geek culture media sites. I’ve been called atrocious names, most of which relate to my body (weight, size) or are slut-shaming in nature. It would be one thing to receive criticism about my craftsmanship; as an artist, this can be expected and even constructive. But to receive criticism and judgment about my body? This is hard. This is painful.
It has been helpful to have a great support system of family and friends. I keep in mind that these hateful people don’t know me. They don’t know that I spend hundreds of hours making my art, or that I’m a hardworking person. I keep this in mind and it helps me to laugh at how ridiculous and unfounded their judgmental statements are. Their hate fuels my passion to work harder, become a better cosplayer, and be vocal in helping others learn how to not let rude comments steal their joy.
NEDA: What advice do you have for those who don’t fit stereotypical beauty standards and want to try cosplay?
SR: First and foremost, ANYONE and EVERYONE can cosplay. Yes, you. Everyone! Any cosplay design can be reworked to fit your personal level of comfort, modesty, and style. I cosplay characters who are traditionally smaller than I am or are not my gender. Cosplay is performance art and part of what makes cosplay so amazing is seeing the beautiful diversity of cosplayers. You are allowed to cosplay that character and no, you don’t need to look anything like them.
If you want to add more fabric to cover an area of your body you don’t feel comfortable about, do it. If you want to reimagine a design as not screen accurate, do it. If you want to make a non-armored character have armor, do it. If you want to purchase and commission a costume because you don’t trust your sewing skills, do it. If you want to make every piece yourself by hand, do it. If you want to genderbend a character, do it.
Here’s the thing. Those comic book illustrations? They are just that—they are drawings. Costumes, body types, and styles change from artist to artist. Many of the bodies in these drawings are not physically possible in real life! These images are simply artistic representations of an IDEA of a character. Completely different actors have portrayed the same character on TV shows and movies. In the same way cosplayers are representatives of these ideas and characters, different designs, body types, etc., of these concepts should be celebrated. There is only one YOU and you bring something truly beautiful and unique to the cosplay table. Cosplay your way and have fun!