Battling Impostor Syndrome with everyday cosplay

A week or so ago, a friend of mine recently launched me into the early stages of epiphany by sending me a fascinating article: “I Dressed Like Cookie [from ‘Empire’] for a Week to Get Over My Impostor Syndrome.

Writer Jazmine Hughes describes her struggle with Impostor Syndrome, a phenomenon that plagues many successful people, but which anecdotally seems to be acute among women in white-collar work. The topic comes up almost daily in a network of women writers to which I belong on Facebook.

In short, it’s a fear of being “found out,” the worry that you’re not really as smart or talented as everyone thinks you are – even after you make it, you still feel like you’re faking it.

And, girl, I feel that.

Hughes’ solution was so brilliant I am green I didn’t think of it myself. And her description of the experience is such a hugely worthwhile read that I’m going to give you a link to it again here. She simply becomes the role model for courage and toughness she always deserved: Cookie, from “Empire.”

Hughes writes:

Ever confident, Cookie’s primary goal is to reclaim her space; her mission, known from the first episode, is “I’m here to get what’s mine.”

I’m now six months into working at the Times — markedly less full of anxiety and ineptitude since day one, but despite working with the kindest and most attractive people in journalism, I’m still pretty uncomfortable. I love my job, but there are still days where I’m convinced I don’t belong, racked by the fear that someone is going to find me out and show me the door. This is called impostor syndrome, which I know a lot about (I’ve even written about it): a state in which a person isn’t able to accept their accomplishments, chalking it up to luck or a mistake. But what I like to think I have is an enhancedimpostor syndrome: a state in which a person goes, “No, I know about impostor syndrome, I’ve actually read the entire Wikipedia page, but this definitely isn’t it, I actually am completely incompetent.” (But that’s just … impostor syndrome.) Either way, I figured: Hey, if Cookie can regain the space she’d lost, then maybe I can carve some space out for myself.

Suddenly, I realized this tactic is what I need to save myself. Not for a week, but every day. Here’s a walk through the stages of my epiphany so far.

Stage one: Background

I’ve written here before about the joyous nerdery of cosplay but not much on why I like to create costumes to emulate my favorite characters: It’s super empowering.

For a day at a comics convention or at a Renaissance Faire I get to pretend to be a badass. I can forget that I sit at a computer all day correcting typos and convince myself I’m a pirate or a viking or even the Khaleesi herself.

[Ahem, side note, if you’ve been in “Game of Thrones” withdrawal all season, catch up with my podcast “The Rains of Podcastamere.”]

Laura Bogart wrote for Salon her experience of claiming her space in the world of cosplay, perfectly describing why I love to be someone else for a day:

[Last Halloween,] I went out as Daenerys Targaryen. I stood taller, walked with a longer, more imperial stride; I waved my hand and (with each drink) bellowed words of Dothraki; and I felt, for the most part, more connected to one of my onscreen inspirations and all the power and glamor she embodies.

Read more: “I wanted to go as Daenerys Targaryen or The Bride — but, apparently, badass costumes are not for fat girls

Like Bogart, my casual cosplay affinity came from a lifelong love of Halloween and appreciation for theatre. It all started to fall into place as I learned to sew and began to appreciate kickass women in movies, books and video games.

Stage two: The unintentional trial run

Flash back to September, when I had long been already scheming for my Halloween costume – a mid-level cosplay of Furiosa from the unspeakably empowering latest installment of the otherwise underwhelming “Mad Max” franchise, “Fury Road.” Charlize Theron shines as every young feminist’s new ultimate hero, idol, life coach. I’ll spare you the manifesto – and concede that it isn’t a perfect feminist masterpiece – but the film is worth at least two hours of your life.

I was shopping for a shirt to incorporate into my costume, and I find a real contender at Goodwill, but I ultimately decide to make my own. Then at some point in October, I busted out that contender, a quasi-sheer, long-sleeve dark tan tunic, to wear to the office. I donned it with black slim-cut jeans, black lace-up boots and a few unnecessary belts. Black eyeliner. Hair pulled back. Head held high. I was Furiosa Lite. At work. And I felt like an empress.

Stage three: Halloween and the Pa. Renaissance Faire

Mad Max Furiosa cosplay costumeMy husband and I made our annual trip to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire’s Halloween weekend dressed as Max and Furiosa, accompanied by our friend dressed as Nux the Warboy.

We fully intended to have a normal Faire day exchanging pleasantries, giggling at comedy shows, eating delicious food, drinking delicious wine and watching the joust.

Before even reaching the festival gates, a crowd gathered as a family asked us to pose for a themed photo. Faire-goers and actors alike were shouting movie quotes at us. We were instant celebrities. The mom in the family who took our photos urged us to enter the costume contest. It hadn’t even crossed our minds.

“You could definitely win,” she said. I looked over the couple and their three children, all in expertly sewn, handmade, ornate Renaissance-era garb and thought, “Yeah, right.”

Yeah, she was right. We entered the contest; we got past three rounds of critique from judges and audience members; and, dagnabbit, we won.

Mad Max Furiosa Nux cosplay costume

This. Was. It. It was the moment I thought, “Check me out. Look at who I became. I did this.” For the rest of the day, Faire-goers stopped us to take photos of us, with us, with their children! We had done it.

We had fooled them all into thinking we were truly great, but we were only pretending.

Stage four: Developing a plan of action

Alas, November has dawned. Halloween is over, and so is that spotlight I borrowed. But Furiosa lingers in my heart. I don’t want to let Halloween go, because it means letting go of her defiance and tenacity. If only cosplaying seems to invoke the spirits of all my favorite characters, how can I keep them close in my daily life?

My solution? I’m adapting my wardrobe. Not every day, but in my moments of vulnerability, I’ve got those outfits on reserve. I’ll dress like my heroines when I need their strength most.

I’ve found a boost even when incorporating small elements of their styles (like a well-defined swipe of eyeliner) when I convince myself they’re meaningful, representative of someone greater and stronger than I see myself.

I’ve faked it enough to make it – now I just need to fake the confidence enough to realize it.

You know what? It’s already working.

Furiosa Mad Max cosplay costume


You’ve got my Furiosa style bullet points, but how about some other characters?

Danaerys Targaryen: Turquoise maxi dress, lace-up gladiator flats, tons of gold accents. Or, textured brown halter top, tan cropped linen pants, sandals.

Black Widow: All black, skin-tight everything. Obviously.

Jill Valentine: Skinny jeans, dark blue T-shirt, combat boots, thick belt, fingerless gloves, beret.

Laura Croft: Shorts, tank top, combat boots, ponytail.

Katniss Everdeen: Black pants, athletic zip-up top, black boots, ponytail and a Mockingjay pin. Or, dress that lights itself on fire, if you’ve got one.

Got any others? Post your styles in the comments.