Beneath the Layers – Urban Sidhe

School’s in session again, and cosplayers like my June/July interviewee Lauren are busy juggling classes and cons.  This time around I’m talking to another costumer in college, Jeanelle.  On-line folks may know her as Urban Sidhe or Rio B. In addition to being a cosplayer and an animation student, she’s an active member of the Dallas steampunk and lolita communities. She spend her free time having fun with her dog and cat, playing Star Wars the Old Republic, and setting up movie nights.

NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.

1. How many years have you been cosplaying? What is your favorite cosplay?

My first cosplay I did when I was 14 so almost half my life. My favorite cosplay to date was my Queen Chrysalis from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic.

2. What is the best part of cosplaying? The worst part?

Best part is getting to “not be you” so to speak. Everyone really wishes they had that trait or this trait, but with cosplay, for a limited time you can have that semblance of being someone you’re not. I have to say the worse part is the misconceptions people get about cosplayers. Television doesn’t help and let’s be honest, a lot of cosplayers don’t help. But general society tends to view us as weird and so when I tell people that I cosplay, I get the strangest looks.

3. Has cosplay ever interfered with your working at a convention?

I normally work for the VG Corps Battle Pods. They’ve always been awesome giving me time off to run around in costume.

4. Have you been sexually harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay? If so, please describe a couple incidents. 

Temari (Naruto)

I remember this one kid who had a fascination with my ass. A few years ago I did a cosplay of Rapid 99 from Jet Set Radio Future. She wears very small shorts. He spent a good 5 hours following me around taking pictures of my ass. He even told me that I have the most perfect ass. Kind of creepy.

One time on the DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit], a little kid kept screaming if I was dressed up for Halloween. I was on the DART to go to A-kon which is in early summer. It’s a little kid; what else could I do? I ignored him. If his mom had been there, I would have said something about no matter what people look like that’s no excuse to be rude.

5. How do you feel about the idea that cosplayers should dress up as characters of their race, size, and overall appearance?

Let’s be real. No normal human can get even close to really looking like an anime character. Accuracy is nice but some things have to be forgiven. A lot of cons have the side discussions of the “Fat Hinatas”. But many heavy girls tend to identify with shy soft spoken Hinata. If race is a factor in cosplay, then Blacks and most Hispanics shouldn’t even attempt it. There isn’t a huge diversity of skin colors in anime or even in America cartoons. I say if you want to do a specific character because you like them, then do it.

6. What makes a cosplay stand out above others?

Personally, attention to detail, the accuracy of the outfit. In my Chrysalis costume, my proudest moment was when I was walking around with only the dress on and people still knew who I was. I actually turned people down to take my picture because I didn’t want a half-assed image floating around on the internet.

Queen Chrysalis (My Little Pony). By Arielle Fragassi

7. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?

Oh that’s a hard one. Age appropriate comes to mind. My all-time favorite con story was a girl who couldn’t have been older that 14 running around in a Bible Black [a hentai series] school girl uniform. On one side her dad, the other her mom. The people who recognized the costume were staring in disbelief. The 40-year-old overweight Li Shaoran from Card Captors also comes to mind.

I don’t like to show a lot of skin—Rapid 99 was by far my most risqué cosplay—but lots of comic and anime characters have very little clothing. There are plenty of costumes I don’t like on certain body types, but who am I to stop them? I think if you are going to a family-friendly event, don’t show up looking like you’re ready for a Fetish Ball. Be aware of who the audience is.

8. Does the response to your cosplays differ when you’re in at a sci-fi convention versus an anime convention?

Not really, but I dress for the occasion.

9. How about when you’re in steampunk or lolita versus cosplay?

By Camille Tessa Thomas

I get a lot of curiosity when I’m in any cosplay. Little girls tend to get really excited when I’m dressed in lolita. Men do too but for different reasons. On two occasions I was asked (very politely) if I was a dance/entertainer, a.k.a. a stripper.

10. How did you respond to that?

Well, how would any woman respond to that? Especially one who’s nearly completely covered? I took a breath and calmly explained that this is fashion, not for anything more than that. I made sure to also say it pointedly so that they knew I was offended by their assumptions. Both of them got embarrassed and apologized and told me I looked great, but how is that suppose to make you feel when they already made a comment like that?

11. A hot topic in the steampunk community is the disagreement over whether an outfit is steampunk or not. Lolitas are no stranger to this either. What is your opinion on the need for fashion rules and the critiques that happen a community?

I had a friend, who has never dressed in steampunk, tell me my outfit wasn’t steampunk. Steampunk is an imagination fairy tale. So how can something “not” be steampunk when it really doesn’t have a real world basis? Women are freer in steampunk than they were in the actual Victorian age so how do you know they wouldn’t have worn pants or shorts? One of my favorite critiques is “glue some watch parts on it to make it steampunk”. Now this is just silly. It has more to do than just “clock parts”.

Lolita is a little different. Ever since its conception, there have been rules upon rules. However, the rules of the original conception have changed. There are all sorts of sub-genres now: fairy, gore, sweet, country, ero. Ero especially denounces the rules of gothic lolita by being “sexy”, not “pretty”.

There have to be a few rules in a creative genre or else it would lose itself. But they should be fairly loose to allow all sorts of people to get involved. If you can’t grow, then your genre would never get very far. I don’t like a lot of Victorian wear, and if I had been forced into it, I wouldn’t have gotten involved. Same thing for lolita had I been forced to buy brand. Having a little creative leeway makes me happy.

12. What can people who dress up do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying?

I would say to extract yourself from the situation as soon as possible. Remember that you have your reasons for dressing up and its not their business.

SFE2012 - steampunk1

13. What are your tips for those interested in dressing up on managing time and money?

The thrift store and eBay are your best friend. Stalk and stalk. All of my wigs were bought off eBay. The corset dealer I found was from eBay. Most of my steampunk stuff came from Good Will. As for lolita, I don’t believe in buying brand for something I’ll wear maybe once a month if I’m lucky.

14. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?

I have a lot more friends and confidence. Something about being introverted but being a subdued center of attention is really exciting.

15. Any last words to fellow cosplayers and con-goers?

Thanks for showering! It’s been a while since I’ve come across a particularly nasty bit of con funk. Don’t let bullies and naysayers get you down. Live life the way that makes you happiest.

Many thanks to Urban Sidhe for her responses and cosplay and lolita photos.   More of Arielle Fragassi’s work can be found at Silvertree Photographic.

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