Mellie Pie Cosplay

The Struggles of Being a Plus-Sized Cosplayer

I’ve been plus-size since before I knew it was called plus-size.

I was just “chubby” or “holding onto my baby fat” for years. But upon entering high school, the cute pet names for “fat” were thrown out the window. And I was just that: fat. It was cruel and harsh. I hid my heartache well enough, but my self-esteem was practically wrecked. I had my friends’ support and I was in an anime club. As a high school weeb* (this is a term used for a young person who is new to anime), this is where I was introduced to many an anime. And one of our topics of discussion was going to conventions.

Having never been to a convention before, watching videos of attendees at conventions dressed up like their favorite characters, which in turn were some of my favorite characters, gave me a new goal: I was going to cosplay.  

My First Cosplay 

Agent Yomiko Readman, aka Agent Paper

My first cosplay was of an OVA (original video animation), which is similar to a movie length version of an anime or manga that can either be separate from the series or be a condensed version. This series is called R.O.D. Read or Die, and it was a 3-part OVA. I was going to be the main character, Agent Yomiko Readman, aka Agent Paper.

Melissa Joy cosplays as Agent Paper
Melissa Joy cosplays as Agent Paper / Photo credit via Melissa Joy

Not knowing where to start as far as where to purchase this costume, my mother suggested we go to our local thrift store. So, with printed out images of Agent Paper, we went on a scavenger hunt for pieces. Over a few months and several trips to other local thrift stores, I was able to find all the pieces I needed to create this character. We then went to the fabric store to make the character’s vest, the one thing we couldn’t find. We also found materials to add details to a men’s large beige trench coat. My mom even came up with the idea of buying an old book and carving out the pages to use as a small purse.

My First Convention 

AnimeNEXT was my first convention back when it was still in Secaucus, NJ. I went with some friends. One of my friends was also cosplaying. The weekend was thrilling. It was a lot of firsts for me. At 18 years old, it was my first time driving more than an hour away from home without my parents, staying at a hotel, and budgeting my money for an entire weekend. This cosplay was also the only one I had for all 3 days. I wore it for two of those days and wore regular clothes for the last day.

My First Insecure Moment 

Thinking back on it now, I wonder if it was because I was a moderately unknown character at the time. But the feelings of uneasiness grew the more people either didn’t recognize who I was. Or when they asked my friend for a picture, but not me. It was equally uncomfortable when they would see me step to the side and then, with what felt like pity, asked me to join her for a photo of us both. Admittedly, my friend was cosplaying a more popular character from a show on Toonami at the time.

At the time, I couldn’t help but think it was because she was thinner and prettier than me. The more people excitedly approached her and complimented her work while I just stood beside her, the more I didn’t want to be around at all. I eventually broke away saying we’d meet up later. I hoped this would be the time people would recognize me. Still to this day, I won’t forget that only five people recognized my character that entire weekend. 

My First Online Shopping Experience

Women’s Clothing Sizes Vary By Store

Women’s clothing never fits the same, even when buying from the same store. Every cut of jeans, skirts, pants, underwear, or anything you can think of, can and will fit differently even if you know your measurements. Being a larger person that saying goes literally double for me. I’m pear-shaped, which means I’m that level of fat where I’m too big for standard sizes on my bottom half, and too small for plus-sizes on my top half. I’ve loathed shopping in general. Because I either have to go to different sections in a store or go to different stores to find anything. It’s even worse with online shopping. At least in a store I can try clothes on and put it back on the shelf if it doesn’t fit. 

Online shopping at the beginning of my cosplay journey wasn’t as easy as it is today. There wasn’t free two-day shipping and returns. I had to wait one to four weeks, and if it didn’t fit, I had to pay to send it back and wait for a refund. The horror, I know! Well, with all of that at stake, ordering online caused a lot of anxiety and fear.

And Then There’s Asian Clothing Sizes

Regardless of this stress, I wanted to cosplay as Tohru from Fruits Basket. However, I had no idea where I was going to get a Japanese school uniform just like hers. I doubted I’d be able to find anything like that in thrift stores like before. So, what does any girl in the early 2000s do? Turn to Ebay, of course! An agonizing six weeks later, my package finally arrived, and if my first paragraph is any inclination on how it went… It went horribly! It was way too small! No one told me Asian sizes were smaller than American ones. I was devastated and it made me feel awful about myself. My self-esteem took a nose-dive.  

As a plus-size woman, I currently wear between an XL or 2XL for American sizes. When I order Asian-sized clothing, I have to go up to a 5XL or 6XL just based on the provided measurement system they use. I had to remind myself, “I am not that big!” The worst moment is when the clothing arrives and it doesn’t fit! That self-esteem nose-dive just hit the ground with a huge SPLAT! I often wonder how plus-sized Asian women feel having to shop for themselves with the sizing system they use. I’ve learned that it’s best to read reviews, before making the decision to buy. And if it has no reviews whatsoever, then it’s adios to that item. Still, this doesn’t fix the negative feeling I get when buying such a large size, even after convincing myself that’s not my actual size.

My Hiatus 

During my freshman year of college, I attended conventions whenever I could. I continued to use my thrift store finds and built whatever accessories I could myself. I had a lot of self-doubt while I created, but when the pieces were complete and I wore them, I felt happy. Even still, after my freshman year, I went through the rest of college without another cosplay experience so I could focus on school. 

Post-graduation, I re-entered into the anime world and haven’t stopped since. After nearly five years on hiatus, I had a lot of catching up to do. After watching the newest and most popular animes of 2011 and figuring out which characters I’d want to cosplay, it still took me another year before I’d return to a convention. I dreamt of many cosplays I wanted to work on. But I also needed to focus on finding a job and moving out of my family home. It took some time before I was actually able to make another cosplay.

My Return to Cosplay 

Not being the best seamstress and not trusting online sources, I returned to my original way of cosplaying. I went to thrift stores to do my best at finding pieces that matched what I was looking for and would build from there. It’s always been easier for me to make small alterations like adding or subtracting materials to make it look how I needed.  Websites like Amazon have made online shopping a little bit easier, but there is still the fear of things not fitting, and it has happened many times. I’ve made a couple cosplays 100% from scratch with no pre-made materials, and I’ve loved them, but it was no easy task. There was a lot of trial and error. Remember the #1 rule of sewing: measure a whole bunch of times before cutting your fabric and don’t forget the seam allowance!

My Struggle with Cosplay Websites and are great resources for pre-made cosplay. They even take custom orders! However, not everyone can afford that. I know it’s not something that’s in my budget more than half the time. I’ve tried ordering from both sites and had issues. Things like return policies and only 50% refunds are scary commitments for a plus-size person, especially when spending over $100.  After that, I gave up on ordering premade cosplays.

My Struggle with Body Image 

Spandex, Spanx, corsets, stockings, push-up bras, anything to cinch and squeeze, and hide the fact that I was big became my life for a while. In the past few years, conventions have become more mainstream, but at the cost of a rise in bullying cosplayers and gate-keeping characters. The people who dictate who and what other people should cosplay or what’s appropriate for your skin tone and your body shape, are all garbage and shouldn’t be listened to.

All I wanted was to fit in, but as I got older, I started to realize, I wanted to fit in for the wrong reasons. I know now that I do fit in because cosplay is for everyone. It’s not just for the thin bodies. Cosplay is for every body type and every skin tone, mine and yours included. And no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong. There is no wrong way to cosplay (unless it is harmful or disrespectful to other cultures).

My Change to Body Positivity

As I continued to cosplay and create, I also started to promote body positivity and plus-size cosplayers.  Cosplayers like @cin_von_quinzel, @kayecosplay, @tranquil_ashes, @dorkspawncos, and @wellrenato, just to name a few, all give me the inspiration to just be me and to cosplay because it makes me happy. I also started looking for other websites that cater to plus-size people, such as Incontrolclothing and KawaiiBabe. You can also go to where you can find someone who will make a custom cosplay to your exact measurements. This way, you’ll know that you’re getting something that is good quality. The availability to the plus-size community in terms of things to buy has grown since I first started cosplaying and for that I am grateful.

My Journey as a Plus-Size Cosplayer 

As I continue to grow by learning to love myself–ALL of myself–and adapting my cosplays to fit me as I am, instead of trying to fit myself into the cosplay, I’ve become happier. Cosplay is fun again. Instead of making cosplays with the idea that I need to impress people, I cosplay to make myself happy. Creating and crafting is why I cosplay. 

I cosplay to bring the characters I love and admire to life. And I promote myself as a plus-size cosplayer, because larger people don’t get enough recognition. I want everyone to know that we are creative innovators too! We put our whole hearts into each creation we make and people should look at our hard work instead of just our bodies. It’s still a struggle some days, but the greatest feeling is putting on a completed cosplay, walking onto the convention floor, and getting recognized not just for the character I’m portraying, but for my craftsmanship as well.

Read more of Melissa Joy’s articles.

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Featured image credit: Mellie Pie Cosplay

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