If you have found your way here then you probably know what cosplay is but just in case, cosplay or costume play refers to those that dress up as a character, usually from a fandom and usually for an event such as a convention.
With the summer convention season drawing to a close some of you may have tried cosplay as your favourite character for the first time so over the next few weeks we hope to take a look at the psychology of cosplay, who does it? Why? How do they choose their character and also cosplay and body image, both negative and positive?
So who are these people that choose to squeeze themselves into Lycra and don crazy wigs for a weekend? The biggest source of information on cosplayers is a survey carried out by Dr Robin Rosenberg and Dr Andrea Letamendi both leading psychologist specialising in the arts and particularly superheroes and comics (a quick look at Dr Letamendis website – http://www.underthemaskonline.com shows some interesting stuff on superheroes I will be looking into at some point). In 2013 they surveyed just under 200 people who self-identified as cosplayers.
So firstly who is the ‘average’ cosplayer? 65% of the respondents to the survey identified as female, the average age was 21, most cosplayed 3-5 times a year (37%) and only 7% said they cosplayed alone, with 43% saying they cosplayed with a group of friends 2-5 times a year.
The top reason given for cosplaying was simply fun with 101 of the respondents stating that as their number one reason, just 26 people put the opportunity to be a ‘celebrity’ for a brief time as their top reason to dress up.
It seems that most people choose their costume because of how they will look in it with 60 people putting that at their top reason for choosing their character. The next top things that influenced people’s choice of character were, some psychology characteristic or some aspect of the characters history. Only 13 put the cost of the costume as their top influencing factor which is lucky as the survey showed that 30% spent $100-$199 on their costume, 24% spent $200 to $399 and 13% spent over $400!
I think the most interesting part of the survey, and something that could benefit from future research, is the effect of wearing a mask. In previous studies, children were more likely to take (steal) sweets when left alone in a room with them if they were wearing a mask when compared to those not wearing a mask (Miller and Rowold, 1979). In another study the participants wearing masks reported feeling less self-aware (less focused on themselves, self conscious and less aware of themselves as individuals) Did Rosenberg and Letamendi’s survey carry these findings through to cosplay? Interestingly no they didn’t, 52% of the respondents answered that they felt neither more of less self-aware when wearing a mask, 4% said they felt much less self-aware and 12% answered that they felt much more self-aware. This is also backed up by the responses to the question of whether they felt less like themselves when wearing a mask, the respondents were more of less evenly spread from totally disagreeing that they felt less like themselves to totally agreeing they felt less like themselves with a mask. The doctors conclude that this is probably explained by the difference between cosplayers motivations for wearing a mask and those asked to wear a mask for a lab experiment. They theorise that the reason some cosplayers felt more self-aware and more like themselves when wearing a mask is down to the paradoxical effect of masking for some people – the anonymity allows them to feel ‘unmasked’ and liberated from their everyday self and more their true selves.
So, we would be really interested to know if the findings of the survey match your experiences, do you fit into the category of the ‘average’ cosplayer? We’d also love to hear about any reactions you have had whilst cosplaying, positive or negative, how does cosplaying affect your body image? Please comment below.